Oracle issues BEA deal ultimatum

Oracle on Tuesday threatened to walk away from its proposed acquisition of BEA Systems by Sunday unless the embattled software company agreed to a deal.

While the threat wiped nearly 4 per cent from BEA’s share price by mid-afternoon, the stock still stood above the $17-a-share Oracle offer, pointing to a belief on Wall Street that the brinkmanship had not seriously damped the prospect of a deal and that Oracle or another buyer would still end up paying a higher price.

“Oracle has no interest in a long, drawn-out process to acquire BEA,” Chuck Phillips, Oracle’s president, wrote in a letter addressed to the company’s board on Tuesday. The letter followed what Oracle said had been another rejection by the BEA board of its all-cash offer.

BEA rejected the latest approach, repeating its earlier claim that the offer “seriously undervalues” the company and adding that it was open to “a transaction that appropriately reflects BEA’s value, reached through a reasonable process.”

The attempt to bring a quick end to the BEA battle is in stark contrast to the fight over PeopleSoft, the deal that launched Oracle’s ambitious attempt to force consolidation in parts of the business software market. That fight lasted 18 months, in part because Oracle had to persuade a court to overturn a US antitrust objection to the deal.

Though he started by offering $16 a share for PeopleSoft and insisting at one point that that was his “final” price, Larry Ellison, Oracle’s chief executive officer, eventually paid $26.50 a share to win over the PeopleSoft board.

Justifying the offer for BEA, Mr Phillips said it represented a 21 per cent premium to the price the day before the proposal was announced and a 44 per cent premium to the level before activist investor Carl Icahn disclosed in August that he had bought a stake in the company.

Mr Icahn, BEA’s biggest shareholder and a critic of the company’s management, has been pressuring BEA to find another buyer.

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