Blackstone shies away from Dell as global PC sales slump

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Private equity firm Blackstone pulled its offer for computer giant Dell yesterday, citing concerns over shrinking sales, opening the way for the company’s founder to take the firm private for $24.4 billion (£16bn).

Entrepreneur Michael Dell, who founded his eponymous computer company with a $1,000 loan in 1984, believes he can turn it around away from the public glare amid a dwindling market for desktop PCs.

New York-based Blackstone appeared set to trump his offer but appears to have got cold feet in the face of an unprecedented 14 per cent drop in industry PC sales in the first quarter of 2013.

Blackstone also cited the company’s lowered profits forecast among the reasons for pulling the $14.25 per share offer.

“Since our bid submission, we learned that the company revised its operating income projections for the current year to $3bn from $3.7bn,” Blackstone’s bidding group said.

Billionaire Dell, who floated his computer company for $85 million four years after starting it from scratch, has teamed up with private equity group Silver Lake for his $13.65 per share all-cash offer.

Dell, the world’s third-largest PC maker, was regarded as a model of innovation as recently as the early 2000s but has struggled to make up for a declining share of the global PC market.

The computer market is moving away from desktop PCs to tablets and smartphones, while the company has also been hit by fierce competition from low-cost rivals.

Its share price had fallen from $26 in 2008 to about $11 before news of the buy-out talks broke in January. . The drop came despite Dell’s efforts in the five years since he retook the helm of the company following a brief hiatus during which its fortunes waned. The company is now trying to transform itself into a provider of enterprise computing services, reducing its reliance on PC sales.

Dell’s takeover attempt still faces opposition from activist investor Carl Icahn, who has taken a significant stake in the company and says the offer undervalues the business.

Icahn has himself proposed paying $15 per share for 58 per cent of Dell, while he had also considered teaming up with Blackstone. Both the Blackstone and Icahn offers involved keeping the group on public markets.

Icahn’s chances of a successful rival offer are viewed by analysts and investors as slimmer than Blackstone’s had been. However, he may yet be able to raise significant opposition to Michael Dell’s offer from other Dell shareholders.

Dell said on Tuesday that Icahn had agreed not to raise his stake in the company to more than 10 per cent, and that he could team up with other shareholders on a potential bid for the personal computer maker. But Icahn said that the agreement did not prevent him from embarking on a proxy fight.