AT&T Unix System Laboratories president Larry Dooling last week cast doubt on published reports that three Japanese companies, Fujitsu Ltd, NEC Corp and Toshiba Corp, have each agreed to buy a stake in Unix Labs, with shares ranging from 1% to 4% and the prices to be paid quoted at between $7m and $30m. The […]
AT&T Unix System Laboratories president Larry Dooling last week cast doubt on published reports that three Japanese companies, Fujitsu Ltd, NEC Corp and Toshiba Corp, have each agreed to buy a stake in Unix Labs, with shares ranging from 1% to 4% and the prices to be paid quoted at between $7m and $30m. The story appeared in Japan’s leading financial paper, the Nippon Keizai Shimbun, and an English translation of the Japanese story, which claims upwards of 10 companies are negotiating for around 40% of Unix Labs, also names Unisys Corp, ICL Plc and Amdahl Corp as likely participants in the long-expected private offering. AT&T Co has since put the proportion to be sold initially at between 20% and 30%. Fujitsu of course, reckoned as more strategically dependent on Unix than either NEC or Toshiba, owns a significant part of both ICL and Amdahl – but Fujitsu said it had not decided yet whether to invest or not. NEC said it would, but had not yet decided how much. The Japanese end of Unix System Labs said that companies had until last Monday to make up their minds. Dooling, however, dismissed the story, particularly the numbers given, as unattributed and hearsay. He declined to comment on the status of the selloff, its participants, or the current timetable, citing non-disclosure agreements. He did manage to quote national baseball hero Yogi Berra’s famous line about how it ain’t over till it’s over, and gave the impression that, after months of talks with at least a score of potential US, European and Far Eastern investors, nothing is absolutely firm as yet. Observers of the Japanese press doubt that the story would have been made up out of whole cloth. What would be more surprising would be if Fujitsu, NEC and Toshiba, which have been actively courted by AT&T as possible investors since at least September, were not involved in taking a stake. Besides, Japanese companies and particularly government agencies like the Ministry of International Trade & Industry are prone to planting stories, sometimes about things they want to happen. In this context, it is conceivable that the Japanese, bored with AT&T’s shilly-shallying, are trying to move things along. The numbers, which Dooling would have us be particularly leery of and which – if accurate – would value all of Unix Labs somewhere between $700m and $750m, a stratosphere almost double anything heard before, might be explained as a combination of the money to be paid to AT&T for its shares plus working capital to fund a restructured Unix Labs.