Chinese $1.2B deal for Opera crumples

New plan: Sell just the browsers to equity firm for $600M

The planned sale of Opera Software to a group of Chinese companies for $1.2 billion has foundered, the Norwegian browser maker announced today.

Instead, an alternate deal has been struck to sell the Opera desktop and mobile browsers, and other small pieces, to a Chinese private equity firm for $600 million.

The original transaction folded after it failed to win regulatory approval from the U.S. and People's Republic of China (PRC) by a July 15 deadline. Opera did not specify whether approval was lacking from both countries, or just one. "The Offeror and Opera have used their best efforts to obtain the regulatory approvals required for the consummation of the Offer, but the condition...was not satisfied," Opera said in a Monday statement.

The now-defunct deal was announced in February, when Opera Software said it had negotiated a sale to a consortium of Chinese companies, including Beijing Kunlun Tech, a mobile game maker, and Qihoo, known for its search and anti-malware businesses. The bid was led by the Golden Brick Silk Road Fund Management equity firm, which in turn was backed by affiliates of the group's partners.

In August 2015, Opera Software said it had hired bankers to help explore options -- effectively putting a "For Sale" sign in the window -- after the firm missed a second-quarter revenue forecast.

With that deal defunct, an alternate accord was struck Sunday to sell the Opera desktop and mobile browsers, and other small pieces of the firm, to Golden Brick for $600 million. Opera will retain its mobile advertising group, as well as its app and games division.

Although Opera Software is best known to consumers for its browsers, they contributed a small part of first-quarter revenue, according to the firm's latest financials. In the March quarter, the desktop and mobile browsers brought in $21.4 million, or about 13% of the total.

Like Mozilla, Opera earns the bulk of its browser-based revenue from contracts with search providers. In Opera Software's case, those deals were with Google and Russia's Yandex.

Other pieces of Opera Software that were slated to go to Golden Brick booked revenue of approximately $15 million for the March quarter.

Opera's share of the desktop browser market has been miniscule throughout its 21-year life. In June, U.S.-based analytics vendor Net Applications estimated Opera's global user share at just 2%, or less than half of Apple's Safari, the No. 4 browser in the rankings. Google's Chrome accounted for 49% of all user share last month, with Microsoft's browsers -- Internet Explorer and Edge -- controlling 37% and Mozilla's Firefox accounting for 8%.

The company's mobile browsers, notably its Android edition, have been more popular. In the March quarter, Opera for Android had 145 million monthly average users (MAU) -- the tally of those who ran it at least once in a given month -- up seven-tenths of a percentage point from the previous quarter. The desktop browser's MAU was 58 million in the March quarter, down 2% from December's number.

The new deal with Golden Brick has been okayed by Opera Software's board, and should close between mid-August and the end of September.

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Gregg Keizer

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