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Dell's founder boosts offer to buy the company

BREE FOWLER,AP Business Writer


NEW YORK (AP) — A group led by Dell's founder raised its offer for the struggling computer maker on Thursday in hopes of attracting more shareholder support for its plan to take the company private.

The 10-cent per share increase came just hours before Dell's shareholders were scheduled to vote on the previous $13.65 per share offer from Michael Dell and investment firm Silver Lake Partners.

But the extra money comes with a catch, a stipulation that the offer's fate be decided by the will of the shareholders who choose to vote in favor of the plan or against it, leaving out those who don't vote at all. Previously, non-voting shareholders were counted as opponents of the proposal.

The Round Rock, Texas, company delayed its shareholder meeting for the second time in two weeks, moving it to Aug. 2 to give the special committee of its board time to consider the offer. The meeting had been set for Wednesday, after being delayed the week before in a sign that the offer didn't have enough shareholder support.

Michael Dell and Silver Lake said Wednesday that the new offer represents their "best and final proposal" and increases the total amount they are willing to pay shareholders by about $150 million, valuing the company at more than $24 billion.

The group wants to change the conditions for approval to require that a majority of the shares voted, excluding Michael Dell's stake, be in favor of the proposal. Under the current terms, the group needs a majority of all the company's outstanding shares, whether they are voted or not, excluding Michael Dell's stake, to vote in favor of it.

The group also wants a quick answer to its new offer. It has given the company until 6 p.m. EDT Wednesday to respond.

Dell's stock fell 3 cents to $12.85 in afternoon trading, after a morning where the stock's trading volume was more than triple its daily average.

In their letter to Dell shareholders, Michael Dell and Silver Lake said they believe the change is "fair and reasonable" to the company's other shareholders, especially given the new offer's additional 10 cents per share for the stakeholders.

Late Wednesday morning, the group said in a statement that according to their last count about 27 percent of the company's shares, excluding Michael Dell's stake, have yet to be voted. For those shares to be treated as if they had voted against the deal is "patently unfair," the group argued.

Two major Dell Inc. shareholders, billionaire Carl Icahn and investment firm Southeastern Asset Management, have been spearheading an effort to defeat the deal. They depict the proposal as an attempt by Michael Dell to seize control of the company at a sharp discount to its long-term value.

Icahn and Southeastern have offered a more complicated alternative, but they first need to block the deal with Michael Dell and then replace the company's board in a follow-up battle.

Icahn used Twitter to send a message to followers Wednesday morning that said "all would be swell at Dell if Michael and the board bid farewell."

In a letter on Tuesday, Icahn and Southeastern ridiculed the four-member special committee for its stalling tactics. "Do not move election day again," they wrote. "This is not a banana republic."

Michael Dell believes he can turn around the company by spending heavily to build better tablets while also diversifying into more profitable areas of technology, such as business software, data storage and consulting. But making those changes are likely to be tumultuous and temporarily lower Dell's earnings, an upheaval that Michael Dell contends will be more tolerable if the company no longer has to answer to other shareholders.

Dell's board says it want to sell to Michael Dell because it believes waiting for an uncertain turnaround is too risky. If the current deal unravels, analysts believe Dell's stock could plunge below $9, reverting back to its levels of late last year.
 

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