BlackBerry Ltd. is warming up to the possibility of going private, as the smartphone maker battles to revive its fortunes, several sources familiar with the situation said.
Chief Executive Thorsten Heins and the company's board is increasingly coming around to the idea that taking BlackBerry private would give them breathing room to fix its problems out of the public eye, the sources said.
"There is a change of tone on the board," one of the sources said Thursday.
No deal is imminent, however, and BlackBerry hasn't launched any kind of a sale process, the sources said. Even if it tried, BlackBerry could find it hard to come up with a buyer and the funding to go private. With the company still posting losses and bleeding subscribers, private equity firms and other buyers may not want to step up.
The company's shares have fallen more than 19 percent this year. Its market value has fallen to $4.8 billion, from $84 billion at its peak in 2008.
BlackBerry (BBRY), which had been pinning its hopes for a turnaround on its new line of BlackBerry 10 devices, declined to comment. The sources declined to be named because these discussions are private.
BlackBerry's openness to consider a deal marks a radical shift in thinking at the once high-flying smartphone maker. Until recently, BlackBerry, formerly known as Research in Motion and a pioneer in providing secured emails on handheld devices, had been bent on staying independent, betting its turnaround on its latest smartphones.
Last month, Heins said the company was on the right track and just needed more time to fix its problems. He said the company will unveil more devices that run on the BlackBerry 10 operating system over the next eight months.
The company has also been looking at options such as licensing its BlackBerry 10 software and other partnerships.
Waterloo, Ontario-based BlackBerry has recently had discussions with private equity firm Silver Lake Partners about potential collaboration in enterprise computing, one of the sources said.
Silver Lake is caught in a bruising $25 billion battle to take Dell (DELL) private. Should it succeed in the Dell buyout, one possibility could be for it to collaborate with BlackBerry in mobile computing, where the PC maker has struggled to gain traction, the source said.
The talks with Silver Lake didn't involve any buyout or other transaction-related discussions, the source said.
Silver Lake declined to comment.
Pressure is only increasing on the smartphone maker. BlackBerry 10 sales have come in well below some analysts' expectations, raising questions about whether the company can quickly win back market share from Apple's (AAPL) iPhone as well as Samsung Electronics' Galaxy devices and other phones powered by Google's (GOOG) Android operating system.
Some investors say the company must now look at all of its options, from a sale of the whole company to a sale of parts. Its valuable patent portfolio and high-margin services business could draw interest from technology companies.
But private-equity firms have circled the company for more than two years and have tried without success so far to figure out ways to structure a deal.
Moreover, Ottawa reviews any big takeover of a Canadian company for competitive and national security reasons. Government officials have often said they want BlackBerry to succeed as a Canadian company, but concede they don't know how things will play out.
Garmin is a navigation device company, focusing on GPS technology. By far, the most profitable of the company's five divisions on a dollar basis (though other divisions have better margins) is the automotive/mobile group, which makes and sells Garmin's GPS units. This segment accounted for 55% of the company's sales in 2012 -- $221 million in operating profit on $1.5 billion in revenue.
Much of the segment's success was due to Garmin's nüvi product line, which accounted for 43% of the company's total revenue in 2012. Garmin is by far the largest participant in the GPS market, with over a 50% market share, according to Consumer Reports.
Folgers is owned by the J.M. Smucker Company, which reported sales of $5.5 billion in 2012. Of those sales, $2.3 billion came from coffee. The company's U.S. retail coffee unit, of which Folger's is the top-selling brand, reported an operating margin of 23.6%, which is down from 27.8% in 2011 and 28.5% in 2010. We estimate that Folgers has an operating margin of at least that. The brand is the market leader for instant coffee in the U.S., commanding an 11.8% market share as of 2012. However, this is down from 13.2% in 2011. J.M. Smucker cut the price of coffee by 6% in 2012, which will affect the bottom line for both its Folgers brand and Dunkin' Donuts-licensed coffee.
That high profitability is even more impressive given that it was earned in a highly competitive market niche, vying against brands like Maxwell House and Starbucks.
The Mead Johnson Nutrition Company primarily sells infant formula and nutritional products for children, and formula accounted for 59% of its total sales in 2012. The vast majority of that came from Enfamil, one of the best-selling infant formula brands in the U.S. The product comes in several varieties designed for babies with different types of feeding problems, intolerances and nutritional needs.
According to Crain's Chicago Business, Mead Johnson had the second largest market share in infant formula as of mid-2012: 15.1%. The company was also the leader in the rapidly growing Chinese formula market. The company's operating margin in fiscal 2012 was 22.3%. We estimate Enfamil has a margin of at least 24%, thanks to the higher retail prices it can command due to its strong brand, as well as lower production costs due to economies of scale.
Coca-Cola and Diet Coke were the two most popular sodas in the world as of 2011, Diet Coke having recently surpassed Pepsi to become the second-most popular soft drink in the U.S. Overall, trademark Coca-Cola products accounted for approximately 48% of all case sales of finished products sold by the company in fiscal 2012.
Given that Coke's finished products unit, which includes the Coca-Cola brand, accounted for 62% of total revenue for the company, Coca-Cola trademark drinks accounted for roughly 30% of the company's total revenue. Overall, the Coca-Cola Company reported 2012 sales of $48 billion and an operating profit of 22.4%. We estimate that the tremendous sales of the company's flagship brand push its operating margin to 25%. BrandZ reports that Coke is the world's sixth most valuable brand name, with an estimated value of $74.3 billion.
Monster Beverage Corporation had net sales of roughly $2.1 billion in fiscal 2012, with an operating income of $551 million. According to market research company Symphony IRI, in the 52 weeks ending February 24, Monster-branded energy drinks accounted for 37.2% of the market, just behind rival Red Bull. In that period, the company sold approximately 1.2 billion cans of its Monster-branded products, including almost 776 million cans of its original Monster beverage. Because Monster-branded drinks accounted for 92.3% of total company revenue, we have treated the company's 26.7% operating margin as a proxy for the energy beverage.
However, business isn't entirely a fairy tale at Monster. The company has recently faced criticism and legal troubles, including a wrongful death suit and a Food and Drug Administration report that linked several deaths to Monster Energy beverages.
Marlboro cigarettes are sold by Altria Group in the U.S., and elsewhere by Philip Morris International -- which Altria spun off roughly five years ago. Marlboro branded cigarettes have made both companies extremely profitable. Altria's sales of smokeable products totaled roughly $22.8 billion in its most recent full year. That figure accounted for 90% of total company revenues, and 85% of units sold were Marlboros. Altria's smokeable products unit has an operating profit of 28%. Because Marlboro is the company's strongest and best-selling brand, it is 24/7's estimate that costs to produce those cigarettes are lower than the company's discount cigarette lines. As a result, we estimate that Marlboro has an operating margin of at least 30%. BrandZ calculates that Marlboro is the world's seventh most valuable brand at $73.6 billion.
The iPhone is by far the most successful product Apple sells. Of the company's $156.5 billion in 2012 worldwide sales, $80.5 billion came from iPhones. Apple sold more than 125 million units last year, a 73% increase over 2011. In contrast, Apple sold 58.3 million iPads that year, generating just $32.4 billion in gross revenue. Each iPhone is far more profitable than each iPad, the company's second best-selling product. According to documents released as a result of the patent lawsuit between Apple and Samsung, Apple's gross margins on the iPhone were between 49% and 58% from April 2010 to April 2012, nearly double those of the iPad. This is partly because wireless carriers subsidize the iPhone heavily -- an average of $425 apiece, according to a recent Stifel Nicholaus analysis. Based on the available data, we calculate the iPhone's profit margin is 40% -- even higher than Apple's overall 35.3% margin.