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Oracle Corp.'s proposed acquisition of BEA Systems Inc. took a turn toward possibly falling apart Friday as the business- software companies continued to spar over a fair price for the deal.

And in the process, investors seemed to believe the odds of the deal have diminished so much that in early trading they sent BEA's stock down $ 1.18 a share, or almost 7%, to $16.50 -- the first time the stock has been below Oracle's $17-a-share offer since the unsolicited bid was made in early October.

The latest twist came in the form of a letter that BEA sent to Oracle's co-president, Charles Phillips. The letter dated Friday, called Oracle's $17-a-share offer "unacceptable," and the BEA board "cannot endorse a proposal that it has concluded significantly undervalues BEA. The letter, signed by William Klein, BEA's vice president of business development, said BEA expects Oracle's offer will expire on October 28.

BEA's letter to Oracle came one day after BEA said it would be willing to sell itself to Oracle, or any other buyer, for $21 a share. That share price would put an $8.2 billion price tag on BEA.

Oracle responded to BEA late Thursday in a letter that Phillips sent to the BEA board, calling the $21-a-share price "impossibly high" and that its $17-a- share bid would be Oracle's only offer.

In his letter, Phillips implied that BEA's board was asking too much for a company that is producing too little in the software industry.


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