DealZone

M&A wrap: Amazon, Nokia, Microsoft weighed RIM bids

Research In Motion has turned down takeover overtures from Amazon.com and other potential buyers because the BlackBerry maker prefers to fix its problems on its own, according to people with knowledge of the situation. Amazon hired an investment bank this summer to review a potential merger with RIM, but it did not make a formal offer, said one of the sources. It is not clear whether informal discussions between Amazon and RIM ever led to specific price talk.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Microsoft and Nokia have discussed the idea of a joint bid for RIM, but the status of those talks remains unclear.

HSBC, Europe’s biggest bank, is retreating from Japan’s private banking market, selling a business that serves the wealthy to Credit Suisse, which is raising its profile in the world’s second-largest market for millionaires.

Tokio Marine said it will buy U.S. insurer Delphi Financial Group for $2.7 billion and is eying other acquisition targets, as Japan’s No.2 property-casualty insurer looks to expand outside its mature home market and diversify geographic risks.

Dozens of black-suited investigators, marching double-file, raided the office building of three small Olympus Corp subsidiaries Wednesday, one of 20 sites searched in a probe of a $1.7 billion accounting scandal that threatens the once-proud Japanese medical device maker’s survival.

Deals wrap: Nokia rumors but no suitors

Nokia’s plunging share price and persistent speculation it might be a takeover target is far from attracting real suitors interested in saving the struggling mobile phone company, write Victoria Howley and Tarmo Virki.

General Motors is considering putting Opel up for sale again as management is losing confidence that the European arm will return to profitability, two German magazines reported.  Here’s a timeline of the twists and turns in Opel’s ownership.

Former BP  boss Tony Hayward and financier Nathaniel Rothschild aim to raise around $1.6 billion with a June listing of an acquisition vehicle that will target oil assets.

Deals wrap: Taking AgBank’s temperature

It is going to be tough for Agricultural Bank of China’s (AgBank) IPO to match the first-day jump in share price enjoyed by its rivals, analysts say. Institutions are expected help stabilize the stock price of the politically sensitive IPO but liquidity, the economy’s health and a flood of new share issues are seen as action against the company. *View article *More coverage *Asia’s top IPOs graphic

Shares in cellphone maker Nokia edged lower as analysts questioned the wisdom of its possible purchase of Motorola’s network equipment unit to boost its weak North American position. *View article

The board of American International Group is expected to meet to consider the future of its AIA unit, with a public float seen as the most likely outcome, sources say. *View article

Pricey Palm attracts attention

If you want to take a bite out of Apple’s piece of the staggeringly huge (but difficult to quantify in $$$ terms) smartphone market pie, you’d better either have the magical new “thing” or be willing to spend to buy it.

As Anupreeta Das reports, Palm – one of the stalwart originals in the mobile handset space — has remade itself into a terrific target with the success of its Pre. Palm’s stock got a jolt this week on talk that Nokia could be considering a bid. But as she explains, Palm may prove to be too pricey a purchase, even for those with deep pockets.

Since introducing the Pre, Dell, Microsoft, Nokia and Motorola have been mentioned as possible suitors. If one of these cash-rich companies was to bid for Palm today, it would be targeting a stock that has quadrupled this year. Complicating matters, “details on how many units it has sold are skimpy, making it difficult to value the success of Palm’s turnaround story,” she reports.

Dribs and drabs from AIG’s fire sale

Sometimes it’s easy to sniff at $70 million, particularly when you have government loans of $80 billion to repay (while the total size of the AIG bailout was closer to $180 billion, much of that consists of toxic mortgage assets that are now owned by U.S. taxpayer). So news that AIG has agreed to sell its Hong Kong consumer finance and India-based IT services units for that amount may seem to be a paltry offer for discussion, even in the blogosphere.

It’s not as if the well is dry on the M&A front. Microsoft and Nokia are set to announce a tie-up of some sort – assumed to have to do with office apps on Nokia phones – and UBS is inking a deal to get it out of the tax-haven doghouse with U.S. authorities.

But spare a thought for poor AIG nonetheless. AIG Financial Products said this week it had completed the sale of its energy and infrastructure investment assets for net proceeds of about $1.9 billion – better than a 1 percent chunk of its total bill to U.S. taxpayers, but the division blamed for so much still has mountains of assets to unload. And it has stepped up plans to list its Asian insurance unit, American International Assurance, in Hong Kong after failing to find a buyer for a large stake in it earlier this year.

Nortel on the auction block: worth more dead than alive

Nortel Networks Corp, for years a wallflower as rivals in the telecom-equipment business paired up, has found new popularity now that it’s in bankruptcy. The first of Nortel’s parts to be sold off, the wireless technology unit alone has attracted at least three bids ranging from $650 million to $730 million. It is set to be auctioned in about an hour.

European telecom equipment makers Ericsson and Nokia Siemens have made offers, along with U.S. private equity firm MatlinPatterson. Canada’s Research In Motion, maker of the BlackBerry, is protesting the process, saying it has effectively been blocked from making a $1.1 billion bid.

“There’s a lot of delicious irony associated with what’s happening now,” said Carmi Levy, an independent technology analyst. “Everybody shows up for the funeral, but no one goes to visit the patients in hospital before they actually die.”

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.

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.