Palm’s down

Contact: Brenon Daly

Just two weeks ago, we wrote that we thought Palm Inc would be a tough sell because the cash-burning smartphone pioneer seemed mired in irrelevance, both to consumers and developers. OK, so we were a bit off on that. The company apparently appeared relevant enough to Hewlett-Packard for the tech giant to hand over more than $1bn in cash for Palm.

While Palm’s board has backed the deal, it appears to be a bit of a tough sell to the company’s shareholders, who have bid Palm stock above the offer since it was announced. From their perspective, anyone who bought the stock over the past year – with the exception of a period from roughly mid-March to mid-April – is underwater, despite the 23% premium offered by HP. Palm shares changed hands at twice the level of HP’s bid for most of January.

But then, valuing Palm has always been tricky, going back to its fitful birth on the Nasdaq as a spin-off from 3Com. (As a side note, HP’s pending pickup of Palm would reunite the smartphone company with its former parent, as HP just closed its purchase of 3Com three weeks ago.) When the tiny stake of Palm hit the market in early 2000, investors were pushing each other out of the way to get their hands on Palm (if you will). The company finished its inaugural day on the Nasdaq at a valuation of some $50bn – roughly twice as much as Apple was worth at the time. Today, Apple fetches a market cap of $250bn, while Palm just sold for $1.4bn.