Investor backs Symbian IPO over sale to Nokia

But Psion and Symbian CEO not budging
Written by Tony Hallett, Contributor

But Psion and Symbian CEO not budging

A roadblock could potentially be put in the way of Psion's sale of its 31.1 per cent in smart-phone operating system venture Symbian to Nokia.

Phoenix Asset Management, which holds 13.1 per cent of Psion stock - making it the UK company's largest investor ahead of chairman David Potter, is questioning whether an initial public offering of shares in Symbian is the better exit route for Symbian shareholders.

Phoenix partner Chris Broadhurst is quoted in today's FT as saying: "Having seen the [Symbian] shareholders' agreement, we take a lot of comfort in the fact that it sees the correct route to realise the value of Symbian."

The shareholder agreement was drawn up in 1998 by founder investors in the smart-phone software company and according to Phoenix states 2004 as the year when Symbian should come to market.

However, in response to questioning from silicon.com at last week's 3GSM World Congress mobile industry event, Symbian CEO David Levin spoke against an IPO this year.

"We have not been in an active IPO process," he said. "An IPO is one of the options but it was not a prospect for 2004. Our goal is to produce a great company. [An IPO] has never been the goal of this management team."

Broadhurst added: "For us, it seems very early to be realising value through a trade sale when we are seeing a clear pick-up for Symbian-licensed phones."

Indeed, sales of Symbian-based smart phones have been picking up, with December 2003 being the first million-sale month for such products and the first million-sale week expected soon, as shipments by licensees ramp up.

The company recently announced version 8.0 of the OS and new licensees Arima from Taiwan and South Korea's giant LG Electronics.

But the sale of the Psion stake in Symbian has resulted in criticism of Psion - for possibly selling its stake too early and exiting a venture founded on its EPOC OS for handheld devices - and also Symbian, which many competitors claiming Nokia will become increasingly dominant in the group.

In a statement, Psion said a Symbian IPO depends on all shareholders in the OS venture favouring the move.

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