Dell to go private in $24.4B deal led by founder
If approved, the deal will likely give Michael Dell his last chance to restore the luster to a company that established him as one of the world's most respected entrepreneurs. Dell started selling PCs out of his dorm room while he was still a freshman at the University of Texas. His legacy has been tarnished in the past decade as HP and other rivals outmaneuvered his company. In recent years, Dell has struggled to cope with the upheaval unleashed by the popularity of smartphones and tablet computers.
The buyout marks a new era for a company created in 1984 by a college kid with a $1,000 investment. The company, initially called "PCs Limited," would go on to revolutionize the PC industry by taking orders for custom-made machines at a reasonable price — first on the phone, then on the Internet.
Initially valued at $85 million in its 1988 initial public offering, Dell went on a growth tear that turned the company into a stock market star. At the height of the dot-com boom in 2000, Dell was the world's largest PC maker, with a market value of more than $150 billion.
But Dell began to falter as other PC makers were able to lower their costs. At the same time, HP and other rivals forged relationships with stores that gave them the advantage of being able to showcase their machines. By 2006, HP had supplanted Dell as the world's largest PC maker.
With its revenue slipping, Dell's market value had fallen to $19 billion before the recent leaks about the buyout negotiations.
Unlike its rival, HP apparently doesn't have any interest in going private, although its own stock price has plunged during the past two years. In a statement Tuesday, HP said it intends to court Dell customers who are worried about the company's ability to innovate, expand its product line and pay its bills now that it will have to earmark some of cash flow to reduce the debt taken on to go private.
"Dell has a very tough road ahead," HP said, adding that "leveraged buyouts tend to leave existing customers and innovation at the curb."
Underscoring the concerns about Dell's additional debt, Standard & Poor's said it is considering downgrading the company's "A-" credit rating to "BB" or "B."
Going private also poses other risks. For instance, it will leave Dell without publicly traded shares to entice and reward talented workers or to help buy other companies. As part of its shift toward business software and technology services, Dell already has spent $9 billion on acquisitions in the past three years.
Microsoft also is going out on a limb with Dell.
By becoming a major Dell backer, Microsoft could gain more influence in the design of the devices running on a radically redesigned version of Windows that was released in late October. The closer ties with Dell, though, could poison Microsoft's relationship with HP, the largest PC maker, and other manufacturers that buy Windows and other software. Microsoft's recent release of its own tablet computer, called Surface, already has alienated some of the company's partners.
In a Tuesday research note, Mizuho Securities analyst Abhey Lamba predicted Microsoft's closer ties will push more PC makers to produce machines that run on Google's Chrome operating system and other software besides Windows.
Microsoft's stock added 6 cents to close at $27.50.
AP Business Writer Michelle Chapman and AP Technology Writer Peter Svensson in New York contributed to this story.
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