Nokia’s Symbianic relationship

nokia.jpgFresh from having Yahoo slip through its fingers, Microsoft‘s plan to leapfrog into Consumerville takes another hit with news that Nokia is paying 264 million euros ($410 million) to buy out other shareholders of Symbian, the dominant player in smartphone software. Nokia says it will dissolve royalty payments for the platform, making it more attractive when compared to Google‘s rival free platform, Android. Symbian’s operating systemis already used in two-thirds of smartphones; Nokia makes 40 percent of all phones sold globally. “This puts a lot of pressure on Microsoft right at a time when they are trying to really push into the consumer space,” said Gartner analyst Carolina Milanesi. “For operators this offers a good alternative to Android.”

British gas producer BG Group launched a hostile $13.1 billion bid for Australia’s Origin Energy, as it seeks to boost its position in Asia-Pacific’s fast-growing gas market. BG is taking its A$13.8 billion all-cash bid, valuing Origin at A$15.50 a share, direct to shareholders after Origin’s board rejected it last month. Origin claimed then that its coal seam gas reserves alone were worth over $15 billion. Shares in Origin, which have surged over 85 percent this year, rose 6.2 percent to a record A$16.48 before closing up 5.8 percent at A$16.42, indicating investors expect an even higher offer. If successful, the deal would be the second-largest foreign takeover of an Australian company after Cemex, North America’s largest cement producer, bought Rinker Group last year for $14.2 billion.

Russian oil major Lukoil bought a 49 percent stake in Italian refiner ERG SpA‘s Mediterranean plant for 1.35 billion euros ($2.1 billion), in a sign of the growing energy ties between Russia and Italy. Lukoil and ERG, Italy’s second-biggest refiner by market share, agreed a joint venture valued at 2.75 billion euros to control ERG’s Isab di Priolo refinery on Sicily. ERG will have 51 percent of the new company.

Other deals of the day:

* UBS said it had acquired Dutch wealth manager VermogensGroep.

* French aero engine and telecoms maker Safran said it had bought Dutch-based passport and secure ID document maker Sdu-Identifaction.

* Shares in China Oilfield Services, an arm of the CNOOC, jumped more than 3 percent as speculation grew about a potential takeover of Norwegian offshore driller Awilco Offshore.

The art of watching

A model waits in the backstage before the ”Nation and Fashion” show in BudapestGE CEO Jeffrey Immelt is in South Korea, where he may or may not be hawking the industrial conglomerate’s century-old appliances division. LG Electronics CEO Nam Yong said his company was “closely watching” developments surrounding the unit’s potential sale. General Electric said earlier this month it may sell or spin off the division, estimated to be worth up to $8 billion. LG, the world’s top maker of household air conditioners, has been talked about as a potential suitor, along with China’s Haier Group. Nam added he had no plans to meet with Immelt. This watching thing appears to be deeply ingrained in LG’s lexicon — the company is also “carefully watchingNokia amid talk the top-ranked mobile phone maker may cut its prices and reenter the South Korean market.

Shares in Belgian brewer InBev, the world’s second-biggest by volume, lost over three percent after a newspaper reported it could soon start takeover talks with rival Anheuser Busch. Belgian business daily De Tijd reported that InBev’s board was about to decide whether to allow its advisers to start negotiating with Bud. This follows the FT’s report on Friday that InBev was considering a $65-a-share bid and had put together $50 billion in financing. A Busch family member, Adolphus Busch IV, told the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday some family members were open to holding talks with InBev but others wanted to keep the status-quo.Germany’s embattled Hypo Real Estate has given its backing to an offer from private equity investor JC Flowers and others to buy almost one quarter of its shares, also declining to give an earnings forecast for 2008. Hypo’s stock price had been under pressure since it surprised investors with subprime-linked writedowns in January. This prompted the investment bank and property lender to look for a committed long-term shareholder to secure its future.

Blackstone Group and Apollo Management are in talks to buy chemicals company Chemtura, the Wall Street Journal reports. The negotiations could fall apart since the parties are still arranging financing and discussing the price tag on the deal, it said. Chemtura, which has a market capitalization of about $1.9 billion, said in December it was pursuing strategic alternatives. Apollo, Blackstone and Chemtura could not be immediately reached for comment.