Unclipping Click Commerce

It turns out that software doesn’t really fit in a toolbox, after all. Illinois Tool Works, which reports third-quarter earnings Thursday, said recently that it plans to divest its Click Commerce division. (With the process just beginning, we don’t expect ITW to say much about the divestiture during tomorrow’s call.) The move would unwind ITW’s puzzling purchase two years ago of the supply chain management vendor. It paid $292m in cash for Click Commerce in September 2006.

ITW is a 96-year-old company that makes everything from commercial ovens to industrial packing tape to arc welders. It has inked more than 50 acquisitions during each of the past two years, spending about $1bn in 2007 and $1.7bn in 2006. And the company is on pace for a similar number of deals this year, having notched 26 buys in the first two quarters. Acquisitions are key for ITW, since the additional revenue picked up represents virtually the only growth at the company. In 2007, its core business expanded just 1.8%.

In announcing the divestiture, ITW indicated that Click Commerce had sales of $67m last year. (That was down slightly from the $74m the company posted in the four quarters prior to the acquisition.) And although ITW hasn’t broken out updated cash-flow figures for Click Commerce, the company has, historically, been a profitable operation. (In the two quarters leading up to the acquisition, Click Commerce had run at a solid 24% operating margin.) We suspect that any number of buyout firms – perhaps those that missed the sale of i2, another big supply chain management company – would be interested in taking a look at the book on Click Commerce.