BlackBerry Messenger under microscope after Facebook buys WhatsApp for $19B

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TORONTO – BlackBerry (TSX:BB) shares moved higher Thursday after Facebook Inc.’s US$19-billion bid for WhatsApp caused one analyst to double his valuation of the Canadian smartphone maker’s messaging app.

After the sale of the competing mobile messenger service, TD Securities technology analyst Scott Penner said BlackBerry Messenger is likely worth about $800 million, or $10 per user, an increase from his previous estimate of $5 per user.

“Understanding that the valuation is not really comparable, engagement metrics of BBM stack up well with WhatsApp and this deal does highlight the value of messaging platforms,” Penner said in a note to investors.

Shares of BlackBerry rose four per cent, or 41 cents, to close at $10.41 on Thursday at the Toronto Stock Exchange.

The Waterloo, Ont.,-based company has been pushing to grow its BlackBerry Messenger platform amongst users who have migrated to competitors like WhatsApp and Kik Messenger over the years.

Last year, BlackBerry made the once exclusively BlackBerry chat application available for iPhones and devices that use the Android operating system as part of a plan to reinvigorate interest in BBM with a goal of eventually monetizing the platform.

The more open version of BlackBerry Messenger immediately took off and had about 80 million users at the end of last quarter but still is far short of the 450 million users on WhatsApp.

While BlackBerry hasn’t indicated that BBM is up for sale, chief executive John Chen has emphasized its value. He said it remains a key asset for the company, partly because of its encryption technology which enhances security.

In a roundtable interview with reporters at the BlackBerry’s headquarters in December, Chen said he was considering the option of selling versions of BBM with designs that catered to specific employers.

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