HP to buy Palm for $1.2B

Palm, the troubled PDA maker, last week agreed to be acquired by Hewlett-Packard for $1.2 billion, or $5.70 per share. The transaction represents a 23% premium to Palm’s closing price last Wednesday, the day the deal was announced.

The blogoshpere already is trying to figure out the strategic purpose of this deal, with early consensus being that HP wants Palm’s well-regarded operating system to serve as the basis for an upcoming tablet computer. Previously, tech companies Dell Inc. and Microsoft Corp., handset manufactures Nokia and Motorola and potential Asian bidders, such as China’s Lenovo, were all considered potential suitors to buy Palm.

Driving much of the deal speculation over the past several months has been the promise of Palm‘s new Pre phone and software, which could catch the fancy of any company that wants to bolster its mobile presence and provide a challenge to Apple Inc.’s iPhone and Research in Motion’s BlackBerry devices.

An early pioneer in handheld devices, Palm once dominated the market but has since been surpassed by the iPhone and BlackBerry and its operating systems has been overshadowed by Google Inc.’s Android software.

The sale is good news for Elevation Partners, the private equity firm that had invested more than 25% of its $1.8 billion debut fund into Palm.

Though hardly a home run of a liquidity event, the deal offers a bit of salvation for Elevation, which had invested $450 million in the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based company. The investments included $74 million last year, $51 million in 2008 and $325 million in 2007.

Elevation is widely expected to raise a second fund sometime this year. —Dan Primack