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Amelio And Wozniak Seek A "Blank Check'; Ex-Apple Execs Surface; Ellen Hancock also part of an acquisition-minded outfit doing unusual IPO

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Three former top honchos at Apple Computer have formed Acquicor Technology, which has filed for an unusual initial public offering as a blank-check company. Acquicor, which is seeking to raise $150 million in the IPO, says it'll use the money to make acquisitions of tech and multimedia businesses. Acquisitions are the focus of blank-check outfits. Gilbert Amelio, who resigned as Apple's chief executive in 1997; Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak; and Ellen Hancock, a former Apple executive and former CEO of Internet firm Exodus Communications, formed Acquicor in August. Amelio is Acquicor's CEO, Hancock its president and Wozniak its chief technology officer. Acquicor says it'll pursue acquisitions of companies engaged in "software, semiconductor, wired and wireless networking consumer multimedia and information technology-enabled" segments. A woman who answered the phone at Acquicor, based in Newport Beach, Calif., said no one at the firm could comment pending the IPO. Blank-check firms also are referred to as special-purpose acquisition companies. Acquicor's filing is part of a trend. In 2005, the number of blank-check IPOs boomed, says research firm Dealogic. SEC Cracked Down The uptick in blank-check offerings is making some in the IPO field uneasy. The Securities and Exchange Commission cracked down on such IPOs in the mid-1980s after some high-profile scandals. Since its founders are well-known in the tech industry, Acquicor's IPO could do well even though its business plan is obscure, says David Menlow, president of IPO Financial Network. Otherwise, the IPO tracker is no fan of blank checks. "This (structure) is usually about trying to catch lightning in a bottle," Menlow said. "I can't say anything good about these type of offerings because the unknown is just so amazing. (Buying shares) is a real leap of faith." The general idea of blank-check companies is to raise money for acquisitions, and that a well-connected team can find hidden gems or undervalued firms to acquire. Apple's board ousted Amelio as CEO in 1997 and replaced him with company co-founder Steve Jobs. Earlier, Amelio was CEO of National Semiconductor. Hancock stepped down as CEO of Web hosting firm Exodus in September 2001 after its stock plunged amid huge losses. Besides Apple and Exodus, Hancock has been an executive at IBM and National Semiconductor. Wozniak co-founded Apple in 1976 along with Jobs, but hasn't worked at the company since 1981. He later founded Wheels of Zeus, a global positioning system and wireless company. According to its filing, Acquicor had no 2005 revenue. Its balance sheet: total assets of $406,578, liabilities of $386,956 and shareholder equity of $19,622. Acquicor has priced shares at $6. The lead underwriter, ThinkEquity Partners, has been active in other blank-check IPOs. Grubb & Ellis The Latest Bigger investment banks, including Deutsche Bank, Citigroup, recently have been underwriting blank-check IPOs, analysts say. In 2005, 33 blank-check companies completed IPOs, raising more than $2.86 billion, Dealogic says. That's up from just 10 companies raising $376 million in 2004. Blank-check companies that have done IPOs include Energy XXI Acquisition Corp., IRF European Finance Investments, International Metal Enterprises, Star Maritime Acquisition, Cold Spring Capital and Fortress America Acquisition. Most trade over the counter, but Acquicor has filed to trade over the American Stock Exchange, under the ticker AQR. On Friday, Grubb & Ellis Realty Advisors, a blank-check company formed by Northbrook, Ill.-based commercial real estate firm Grubb & Ellis Co., said it completed an IPO, raising $143 million. It trades OTC under the ticker GBEL. Some analysts describe blank-check firms as publicly traded buyout funds. As of the mid-1980s, the SEC has required blank-check firms, then known as blind pools, to put most IPO proceeds in a trust, pending any acquisitions. If the company makes no acquisitions within two years or so, IPO funds are usually returned to shareholders, minus operating expenses and fees. Hedge Funds Invest In its filing, Acquicor says 43 similar blank-check companies have completed IPOs since August 2003. Acquicor says only 13 of them have completed business deals or have any deal in process. The main buyers of shares in blank-check IPO shares have been hedge funds, says Linda Killian, an analyst at IPO specialist Renaissance Capital in Greenwich, Conn. These are funds with a limited number of investors, usually institutions or wealthy individuals, that have fewer restrictions than mutual funds. "Blank checks (are) the latest investment vehicle fad," Killian said. "The hedge funds are buying them. The ducks are quacking. So the big investment banks are starting to underwrite them."

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