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Why IBM is paying $1.5 billion to lose a business

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Monday was a dark day for IBM investors. The company’s stock price fell by more than 7 percent after it released a disappointing quarterly earnings report.

But alongside that announcement came a more unconventional one: IBM is selling its chipmaking business to GlobalFoundries. But in this “sale,” GlobalFoundries is collecting the check: $1.5 billion in cash over the next three years. 

“It’s the deal of a century,” says Dan Hutcheson, who follows the industry for VSLI research.

The key is to look beyond the headline number. While IBM is paying GlobalFoundries in cash over the next three years, GlobalFoundries will supply chips for IBM servers for the following ten years–inputs that are key for IBM’s legacy hardware.

“I know a billion and a half sounds like a lot, but it’s probably a deal for IBM, too,” says Hutcheson.

“If you only look at the headline cash number, you are missing a lot of the story,” says Rob Salomon, professor at the NYU Stern School of Business.

Acquisitions are complicated, and those complications can make payments to the acquirer economically sound. 

“As a matter of fact, there’s another example where this happened, which is Daimler-Chrysler’s spin-off of Chrysler. In effect, Daimler paid Cerberus to take Chrysler off its hands,” Salomon says. 

In this case, there were tax benefits to be had, and the ire of the U.S. government to be avoided. Such deals are rare–Salomon doesn’t believe there’s been another this year–but aren’t unheard of. 

“They’re almost always manufacturing-type businesses, right?” says Peter Cowen, adjunct professor at UCLA Anderson School of Management. “Ones that have heavy overhead, certain amount of infrastructure, certain amount of scale of things that need to unwind if they can’t find a buyer.”

In other words, costly businesses — that would be even costlier to shut down.


CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misspelled Rob Salomon’s name. The text has been corrected.

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