Bottom Line: Watsa’s bite of rotten fruit may be too big

 
Elizabeth Fournier

IT SHOULD have been obvious. Six weeks ago, as Blackberry launched a strategic review, Prem Watsa stepped down from the board.

The Fairfax chief executive cited conflicts of interest, but said his investment firm had no intention of selling its shares.

Yesterday he made good on that promise – and then some – offering $9 per share for the 90 per cent of BlackBerry he doesn’t already own.

It’s a miniscule premium to Friday’s close and a pittance compared to the highs of C$137 they hit back in 2008, but it’s a lifeline – and if anyone knows how to throw them its Watsa.

This is the man – nicknamed Canada’s Warren Buffett – who doubled his investment on a nine per cent stake in Bank of Ireland. The man who threw money into credit default swaps in the early 2000s, consistently dragging down profits only to rake in billions when the US mortgage industry collapsed.

But can he take on tech giants like Apple and Samsung, who’ve been steadily winning market share from the once-dominant email giant ever since 2010?

Even for Watsa, who admitted last year it could take four to five years to turn around Blackberry, it might be a leap too far.