After Buyout Collapse, Bell Canada Pledges Share Buyback

The telecom said it would reinstate its quarterly dividend and repurchase as much as 40 million shares of the company.

W. David Gardner, Contributor

December 12, 2008

2 Min Read

After watching hedge fund players, banks, telecommunications executives, lawyers and judges bat the ownership of Bell Canada (BCE) around for months; the company's stockholders finally got some direct consideration.

The telecom announced Friday that it planned to reinstate its quarterly dividend and repurchase as much as 40 million shares of the company.

The stockholders, apparently unimpressed, sent the stock down nearly 5%. The actions by the firm's management were the first after the definitive collapse Thursday of a $50 billion buyout attempt by the Ontario Teachers' Pension Fund and a group of private equity funds. The huge buyout, whose price tag varied from $35 billion to $50 billion according to currency swings and other factors, would have been the largest ever.

The company said it plans to move forward "as a reenergized company with a clear goal -- to be recognized by customers as Canada's leading communications company." The company trumpeted its investment grade credit metrics and ticked off a list of measures taken in recent months to improve its position as the largest telecom company in the nation. During the prolonged and agonizing negotiations attempting to consummate the Bell Canada buyout, competing telecom firms Telus and Rogers Communications took advantage of the distractions to gain market share for themselves.

"Our enhanced operational performance in recent months confirms that Bell is competing as a cost-effective and customer-focused communications company," said George Cope, Bell Canada's CEO, himself a former Telus executive, in a statement Friday. "The Bell team has implemented a range of programs to deliver a better customer experience and we are eager to build on the clear progress we've already made."

In the end, the economic turmoil that has visited virtually all financial markets in the world did the buyout in. Now various parties involved in the aborted buyout are squabbling over breakup fees that could total $1.2 billion.

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