Share story

OTTAWA, Ontario — An offer to take BlackBerry private does not end the uncertainty surrounding the ailing smartphone maker.

BlackBerry said Monday that it had signed a letter of intent from a group led by Fairfax Financial Holdings, a Canadian insurance and investment company, to pay shareholders $9 a share in cash, pending a variety of conditions, taking the company private.

The $4.7 billion offer from Fairfax, which already owns about 10 percent of BlackBerry, is a powerful symbol of the phone maker’s decline. In June 2008 — when BlackBerrys defined smartphones — the company had a stock-market value of $83 billion.

Any deal is far from done. Fairfax did not identify the other investors in its consortium, which is seeking financing. And while the offer could flush out potential rival suitors, it is unclear who might be tempted to come forward, given the company’s uncertain prospects. Investors gave a muted endorsement on Monday, with BlackBerry shares rising 1 percent, to $8.82.

The offer came after the company announced Friday that it expected to report a quarterly loss of nearly $1 billion, stemming largely from the failure of the BlackBerry 10 line of phones that were supposed to revive the company. BlackBerry also outlined plans to lay off about 40 percent of its already reduced workforce, or around 4,500 people.

Sensing the opportunity to halt the fall in company’s stock prompted by that announcement, and the potential to kick off an auction, BlackBerry’s board seized on the offer, quickly signing a letter of intent. The particulars of the deal’s announcement came together in a matter of hours Monday morning. V. Prem Watsa, Fairfax’s chairman and chief executive, told shareholders in March that the company paid an average price of $17 for its BlackBerry shares, giving him an obvious interest in at least stalling the slide in BlackBerry’s shares.

Yet not only are there questions about the offer, several analysts say it is not clear how the Fairfax group could reverse or even stabilize BlackBerry’s rapid decline.

Just as unclear is how a buyout would be financed. Fairfax did not say how much cash it was prepared to put toward the deal, or how much debt it expected BlackBerry to take on in a buyout.

BlackBerry is largely debt-free and had about $2.6 billion in cash at the end of the last quarter.

By signing the letter of intent, BlackBerry effectively opened the door to other bidders. It now has six weeks to shop itself around as Fairfax conducts due diligence, or scrutinizes its books.