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Oh Canada: BCE Buyout Falls Apart

BCE Inc. (Bell Canada) (NYSE/Toronto: BCE) was begging the Supreme Court of Canada this morning to hurry up and hear its case appealing a decision by the Quebec Court of Appeals that effectively denied the company its proposed privatization bid.

The Quebec court denied BCE’s bid to take Bell Canada private yesterday, saying the deal was unfair to certain bond holders. (See BCE Deal Shot Down and BCE Files Motion.)

If the Supreme Court does not make a decision before June 30 -- the deadline for the deal’s completion -- the bid will officially fall apart. That doesn't leave enough time for the court to review the case under normal procedures, which is why BCE filed its motion to expedite the process.

The volume of BCE shares being unloaded by investors was so heavy yesterday that it caused a computer glitch on the Toronto Stock Exchange, temporarily bringing all trading of the stock to a halt. The stock fell 12 percent.

This morning, BCE shares are up 45 cents (1.4%) at $33.55.

At $52 billion, the proposed Bell Canada deal is the largest leveraged buyout in history. The deal was put together just as credit markets were beginning to tighten, making it very difficult to secure financing. (See Telus Still a Factor in Bell Canada Buyout.)

Investors questioned the stability of the financing from the start, but BCE insisted it was on solid ground. Now Citigroup , Deutsche Bank AG , and the Royal Bank of Scotland, three of the financiers of the deal, are looking to rework the lending terms.

Speculation has also re-emerged that amid the confusion over Bell Canada Telus Corp. (NYSE: TU; Toronto: T) might look to bid for the company. A deal with Telus would involve cash and stock and would allow BCE shareholders to maintain ownership in the company. It also wouldn't disgruntle the bondholders that might very well kill the privatization bid.

But Telus did not bid the first time around because of inadequacies in the bidding process, and a deal between it and BCE would likely face regulatory hurdles since it would effectively create a monopoly. (See Telus Loses Interest in Bell Canada.)

— Raymond McConville, Reporter, Light Reading

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