PE shops make the market for tech M&A in July

Contact: Brenon Daly

Spending on tech deals in July hit its second-highest monthly total so far this year, driven by the widespread dealmaking of private equity (PE) firms. Buyout shops figured into eight of last month’s 10 largest acquisitions, either as a seller or a buyer. The big-dollar prints by financial acquirers in July continue the recent surge of unprecedented activity by PE firms, which have largely displaced corporate buyers as the ‘market makers’ for tech M&A.

Overall, the value of tech transactions announced around the globe in July hit $28.9bn, roughly one-quarter more than the average month in the first half of the year, according to 451 Research’s M&A KnowledgeBase. Our research shows that PE firms accounted for some 40 cents of every dollar spent on tech deals last month — two to three times higher than the market share financial buyers held in recent years. Further, unlike the previous PE boom in the middle of the past decade that was dominated by single blockbuster transactions, the current record activity is coming from virtually all deal types.

Just in July, we saw financial acquirers announce transactions ranging from multibillion-dollar take-privates (the KKR-backed purchase of WebMD) to ‘synergy-based’ midmarket consolidation (Francisco Partners’ Procera Networks won a bidding war with another buyout shop to land Sandvine) to early-stage technology tuck-ins (Vista Equity Partners’ TIBCO scooping up one-year-old Overall, according to the M&A KnowledgeBase, PE firms announced a staggering 77 deals last month. That brought the year-to-date total to 511 PE transactions in the first seven months of 2017 — setting this year on pace to smash the full-year record of 680 PE deals recorded last year.

More broadly, last month featured a fair amount of old-line M&A, whether it was buyout firms trading companies among themselves (Syncsort) or mature tech industries consolidating (Mitel Networks reaching for ShoreTel or serial acquirer OpenText picking up Guidance Software, for instance). Those drivers put pressure on valuations paid at the top end of the market last month. According to the M&A KnowledgeBase, acquirers in July’s 15 largest deals paid just 2.4x trailing sales. Not one of last month’s 15 blockbusters got a double-digit valuation, although subscription-based ERP software startup Intacct came very close. For comparison, fully five of the 15 largest transactions in the first six months of 2017 went off at double-digit valuations.

For PE, secondaries become primary

Contact: Brenon Daly

In many ways, the tech buyout barons have themselves to thank for the record run of private equity (PE) activity so far in 2017. The number of so-called ‘secondary transactions,’ in which financial acquirers sell their portfolio companies to fellow financial buyers, has increased for three consecutive years, according to 451 Research’s M&A KnowledgeBase. The pace of PE-to-PE deals has accelerated even more this year, with an unprecedented 64 secondary transactions already in 2017 — more than twice the average number in the comparable period over the past half-decade.

The fact that secondaries have become primary for PE shops represents a fairly noteworthy change in both the buyout shops and their backers, the big-money limited partners (LPs) of the funds. In years past, LPs have frowned on the practice because, in some cases, they might be investors in both the PE funds that are doing the buying as well as the ones doing the selling, which doesn’t really reduce their risk in that particular holding — nor do they truly exit that investment. The practice has been criticized by some for being little more than buyout shops trading paper among themselves.

For that reason and others, our M&A KnowledgeBase indicates that the number of PE-to-PE deals in the first half of the years from 2002-10, when the tech PE industry was relatively immature, averaged only in the mid-single digits. In others words, PE shops are currently doing 10 times more secondary transactions than they did in the first decade of the millennium. Recent tech deals that have seen financial buyers on both sides include Insight Venture Partners’ sale of SmartBear Software to Francisco Partners after a decade of ownership, TA Associates’ sale of Idera to HGGC, and Summit Partners’ sale of most of Continuum Managed Services to Thoma Bravo.

These types of transactions appear likely to remain the exit of choice for PE shops, as both the number of funds and the dollars available to them continue to surge to new highs. The increasing buying power of buyout firms stands in contrast to the diminished exits provided elsewhere for portfolio holdings. The tech IPO market has never provided much liquidity to PE shops. (For instance, neither Thoma Bravo nor Vista Equity Partners has seen any of their tech holdings make it public.) Meanwhile, corporate acquirers — the chief rival to financial buyers — have dialed back their overall M&A programs, and in some cases have found themselves outbid or outsprinted in PE-owned deals by ultra-aggressive buyout shops.

Private equity’s latest venture 

Contact: Scott Denne

The bulging coffers of buyout funds are delivering a record amount of exits to venture capitalists, providing some measure of relief as strategic acquirers scale back dealmaking and the IPO market remains a selective venue. Yet relying on a different category of buyers could have venture investors rethinking how to value the products – startups – they sell to them.

So far this year, private equity (PE) firms have spent $4.8bn on 40 companies that have taken venture money. That nearly matches last year’s record dollar total ($5.2bn), according to 451 Research’s M&A KnowledgeBase, and is on track to pass the number of such deals in 2016.

Returns from both PE shops and strategic acquirers range from prodigious to paltry, although usually at vastly different multiples on the high end of the market. Take the two largest VC exits this year, Cisco’s $3.7bn acquisition of AppDynamics and PetSmart owner BC Partners’ purchase of Chewy for an estimated $3.4bn. Both delivered outsized returns, but Chewy went off at nearly 4x trailing revenue, which is above market for an e-commerce transaction although not in the same neighborhood as the 17.4x AppDynamics garnered.

In AppDynamics, Cisco is gambling that the application performance management vendor will mature into that lofty price. PE firms are less inclined to make such a wager. While PE shops are buying venture-backed companies – they account for a record 14% of venture exits so far this year – they’re looking for proof, not potential. Those tougher standards could start to trickle down to valuations in venture fundings as PE firms determine a larger share of the outcomes.

For more real-time information on tech M&A, follow us on Twitter @451TechMnA.

Xactly exits

Contact: Brenon Daly

Two years after coming public, Xactly is headed private in a $564m buyout by Vista Equity Partners. The deal values shares of the sales compensation management vendor at nearly their highest-ever level, roughly twice the price at which Xactly sold them during its IPO. According to terms, Vista will pay $15.65 for each share of Xactly.

Xactly’s exit from Wall Street comes after a decidedly mixed run as a small-cap company. For the first year after its IPO, the stock struggled to gain much attention from investors. Shares lingered around their offer price, underperforming the market and, more notably, lagging the performance of direct rival Callidus Software. However, in the past year, as Xactly has posted solid mid-20% revenue growth, it gained some favor back on Wall Street. In the end, Vista is paying slightly more than 5x trailing sales for Xactly.

The valuation Vista is paying for Xactly offers an illuminating contrast to Callidus, which has pursued a much different strategy than Xactly. Although both companies got their start offering software to help businesses manage sales incentives, the much-older and much-larger Callidus has used a series of small acquisitions to expand into other areas of enterprise software, notably applications for various aspects of human resources and marketing automation. According to 451 Research’s M&A KnowledgeBase, Callidus has done seven small purchases since the start of 2014. For its part, Xactly has only bought one company in its history, the 2009 consolidation of rival Centive that essentially kept it in its existing market.

Although Xactly is getting a solid valuation in the proposed take-private, it’s worth noting that Callidus – at least partly due to its steady use of M&A – enjoys a premium to its younger rival with a narrower product portfolio. Even without any acquisition premium, Callidus trades at about 7x trailing sales. Callidus is roughly twice as big as Xactly, but has a market value that’s three times larger.

For more real-time information on tech M&A, follow us on Twitter @451TechMnA.

Dealing with the dragon

Contact: Brenon Daly

A little more than a year after a Chinese consortium acquired slumping printer maker Lexmark, the group has sold off the company’s software business to Thoma Bravo. The enterprise software unit had basically been for sale since the Chinese buyout group, which is led by a hardware-focused firm, closed its $2.5bn take-private of Lexmark. Although terms of the sale of the software division weren’t formally released, media reports put the price at $1.5bn.

Assuming that price is more or less accurate (we haven’t been able to independently verify it), the deal would stand as the largest inbound acquisition of a Chinese technology asset, according to 451 Research’s M&A KnowledgeBase. Obviously, there have been larger transactions involving Chinese targets. But all 16 of those deals listed in our M&A KnowledgeBase have seen fellow Chinese companies as the buyer. Overall, our data indicates that slightly more than half of all China-based tech vendors sell to Chinese acquirers, although the top end of the market is unanimously weighted toward domestic transactions.

Clearly, although owned by a Chinese group, the Lexmark software division is hardly a ‘Chinese company,’ in the sense of a domestically headquartered operation that does the majority of business in its home market. Lexmark had cobbled together its software unit from roughly a dozen acquisitions of enterprise software providers based in North America and Europe. (451 Research will have a full report later today on how the acquired software business will fit into Thoma Bravo’s portfolio and what impact the deal will have on the broader business process and content management markets.)

Nonetheless, this landmark transaction comes at a difficult time in US-Sino relationships. President Donald Trump has blasted the currency and trade policies of China, although he did tone down his criticism during last month’s meeting with his counterpart, Xi Jinping. Despite the apparent thaw, the relationship between the world’s two largest economies remains chilly. That’s having an impact on M&A, which is a form of ‘international trade’ of its own. In a survey last month of 150 tech M&A professionals, more than half of the respondents (55%) predicted that US acquisitions of Chinese companies would decline because of President Trump’s trade policies. Just 7% forecast an uptick, according to the M&A Leaders’ Survey from 451 Research and Morrison & Foerster.

For a more in-depth look at the trends and concerns around doing deals in China, be sure to join our webinar, ‘The State of Tech M&A in China,’ on May 17 at 1:00pm EST. The webinar is open to everyone, and you can register here.


Jive talk leads to a deal

ContactBrenon Daly

Privately held software consolidator ESW Capital has continued its sweep through the ever-maturing business software market, paying a bargain price for faded enterprise communications vendor Jive Software. ESW, which serves as the family office of Trilogy Software founder Joe Liemandt, has notched more than 50 software acquisitions, mostly over the past decade. It typically acquires old-line software companies that, for one reason or another, find themselves out of step with their respective markets.

That’s certainly a description that could be applied to Jive, which was founded in 2001 and enjoyed a few bountiful days after its 2011 IPO, but has more recently found itself a bit of an orphan on Wall Street. It went public at $12 and shortly after the offering shares ran into the mid-$20s. However, the stock hasn’t been in the double digits for more than three years. As shares slumped, perhaps inevitably, acquisition rumors began surfacing around the company, with SAP and existing Jive partner Cisco named as potential buyers. (At that time, boutique bank Qatalyst Partners was rumored to be running the process. In the actual sale to ESW, Morgan Stanley, which led Jive’s 2011 IPO, is getting the print. On the other side, Atlas Technology Group advised ESW.)

Investors impatiently waited through several shifts in strategy at Jive, but recent moves hadn’t produced much growth at the company: Jive was a single-digit-percentage grower in both 2015 and 2016, while its customer count actually ticked slightly lower during that period. On the bottom line, Jive has always run in the red, although on the other side of last year’s restructuring, it has posted positive operating income.

Still, Jive’s struggles are reflected in ESW’s take-private offer. Terms call for the buyout firm to pay $5.25 for each of Jive’s roughly 79 million shares outstanding, for an announced equity value of $462m and an enterprise value of slightly more than $350m. Jive put up $204m in revenue, meaning it is being valued at just 1.7 times trailing sales in the deal, which is expected to close next month. That’s below any of the multiples paid by PE shops in erasing software vendors from US exchanges over the past year. According to 451 Research’s M&A KnowledgeBase, multiples paid in software take-privates since May 2016 have ranged from 2.3-7.9x trailing sales.

For more real-time information on tech M&A, follow us on Twitter @451TechMnA.

Infoblox sells for $1.6bn amid a slew of PE take-privates

contact: Scott Denne

Billion-dollar take-privates continue to rise to record levels as Vista Equity Partners pays $1.6bn for Infoblox. Vista has ended the network management vendor’s four-year run as a public company – a run that has seen shifts toward virtualization catch up with the target. Many of Infoblox’s capabilities – e.g., DNS, DHCP and IP address management – are now included in different virtualization and cloud management products. As that has happened, Infoblox’s growth has slowed and it has become more reliant on specialty deployments, particularly for security, which now generates 16% of sales, up from 8% a year ago.

Today’s deal marks the third time this year that Vista has taken a public company off the market. The first two, Marketo and Cvent, went off at 8x trailing revenue – aggressive multiples for a private equity (PE) transaction. By comparison, Infoblox is selling for 3.7x. Marketo and Cvent were posting about 30% annual revenue growth at the time of their sales. Infoblox, on the other hand, was slightly down year over year last quarter and expects 6% or less growth over its recently begun fiscal year.

Being lower than Vista’s recent deals doesn’t mean that Infoblox isn’t commanding a strong multiple. Despite growth challenges and the fact that it puts up negative EBITDA – squinting past a restructuring charge gets it nearly in the black this year – Infoblox’s multiple comes in right at the median multiple for similar transactions.

Availability of debt has helped drive PE deals to recent highs. According to 451 Research’s M&A KnowledgeBase, there have now been 10 take-privates by PE firms valued at or above $1bn, more than any other full year in the past decade. (The total value of such transactions is higher than most years, but not breaking records as no single deal has cracked $5bn).

For more real-time information on tech M&A, follow us on Twitter @451TechMnA.

Even as summer heated up, tech dealmaking cooled down in August

Contact: Brenon Daly Kenji Yonemoto

After surging at the start of summer, tech M&A activity in August settled back to a more representative level. Acquirers around the globe announced 281 tech, media and telecom transactions valued at $30.5bn in the just-completed month, according to 451 Research’s M&A KnowledgeBase. The spending basically matches the August levels of the two previous years. However, it is just one-third the amount dealmakers spent in July and half of June’s spending.

The main reason why spending last month didn’t drop further than it did – August still ranked as the third-highest monthly total in 2016 – is primarily due to an unprecedented wave of private equity (PE) activity. Last month, buyout shops accounted for roughly half of all tech M&A spending, which is about three times their typical level. Overall, PE shops were buyers in five of the 10 largest transactions, including both of August’s biggest prints, according to the M&A KnowledgeBase.

While M&A spending held up last month, the same can’t be said for deal volume. The number of prints announced in August sank below 300 for the first time in two and a half years, according to the M&A KnowledgeBase. Deal volume dropped to just 281 transactions, down 18% from the monthly average in 2016. (Relatedly or not, stock trading volume last month also slid to some of the lowest levels in recent memory.)

With eight months of 2016 now complete, tech M&A spending has already cracked $300bn, putting it ahead of five of the seven full-year totals since the recent recession ended. Assuming the rest of the year continues at the same rate it has shown since January, 2016 would see some $450bn worth of deal flow. However, we suspect that the pace of spending in the remaining four months of the year could slow if several looming macro factors (an increasingly rancorous US election cycle, a long-considered interest rate hike, the continued deceleration of most of the world’s large economies) introduce more uncertainty into the picture.Jan-Aug MA totals

Rackspace pivots to private

Bruised by a fight in the clouds, Rackspace has opted to go private in $4.3bn leveraged buyout (LBO) with Apollo Global Management. The company, which has been public for eight years, is in the midst of a transition from its original plan to sell basic cloud infrastructure, where it couldn’t compete with Amazon Web Services, to taking a more services-led approach. Terms of the take-private reflect the fact that although Rackspace has made great strides in overhauling its business, much work remains.

Leon Black’s buyout shop will pay $32 for each share of Rackspace, which is exactly the price the stock was trading at a year ago. Further, it is less than half the level that shares changed hands at back in early 2013. Of course, at that time, Rackspace was growing at a high-teens clip, which is twice the 8% pace the company has grown so far this year.

In terms of valuation, Rackspace is going private at just half the prevailing market multiple for large LBOs so far in 2016. According to 451 Research’s M&A KnowledgeBase, the previous nine take-privates on US exchanges valued at more than $500m have gone off at 4.4x sales. (See our full report on the record number – as well as valuations – of take-privates in 2016.) In comparison, Rackspace is valued at just slightly more than 2x trailing sales: $4.3bn on $2bn of revenue, with roughly the same amount of cash as debt.

More relevant to Rackspace as it moves into a private equity (PE) portfolio is that even as the company (perhaps belatedly) transitions to a new model – one that includes offering services on top of AWS, Azure and other cloud infrastructure providers that Rackspace once competed against – is that it generates a ton of cash. Sure, growth may be slowing, but Rackspace has still thrown off some $674m of EBITDA over the past year.

The company’s 33% EBITDA margin is even more remarkable when we consider that Rackspace, which has more than 6,000 employees, is relatively well-regarded by its customers for its ‘fanatical’ support of its offerings. While we could imagine that focus on customer service as competitive differentiator might set up some tension under PE ownership (people are expensive and tend not to scale very well), Rackspace has the advantage of having built that into a profitable business. In short, Rackspace is just the sort of business that should fit comfortably in a PE portfolio.

For more real-time information on tech M&A, follow us on Twitter @451TechMnA.

The buyout barons get busy on Wall Street

Contact: Brenon Daly

Cash-rich buyout firms are still shopping on Wall Street, undeterred by recent record levels hit in US equity markets. The dramatically increased buying power of private equity (PE) shops has resulted in an unprecedented number of significant tech vendors erased from US exchanges so far this year. Already in just eight months of 2016, PE firms have announced nine take-privates valued at more than $500m, up from an average of about five transactions per year in the past half-decade, according to 451 Research’s M&A KnowledgeBase.

Part of the reason why PE shops are buying big companies is that they have amassed billions of dollars of capital, so they don’t have to sweat when writing the equity check. Further, credit is once again flowing relatively freely to help support these large deals. With money in hand, buyout firms are ready to do business. To get a sense of that, consider Vista Equity Partners’ $1.8bn acquisition of Marketo in May. According to the proxy filed with the SEC in connection with the transaction, Vista announced the purchase just one month after first informally floating the idea of buying the marketing automation specialist.

Of course, it also helps that buyout shops are willing to pay up to do their deals. In the case of Marketo, for instance, Vista is paying 7.9x trailing sales for company, which was growing at about 30%. Vista paid a comparable multiple in its similarly sized reach for Cvent in April. Meanwhile, the buyout pair of Silver Lake Partners and Thoma Bravo paid a full turn more last October for SolarWinds, a roughly $500m business that sold for $4.5bn. The valuation of the network management software provider looks equally as rich when we consider that it sold for 28x EBITDA, by our calculation.

On average, in the nine large take-privates so far in 2016, PE firms have paid an average of 4.4x trailing sales, according to the M&A KnowledgeBase. That, too, is the richest valuation we have recorded for PE shops, slightly ahead of the average of 4.1x trailing sales in 2015 but about twice the prevailing multiple in the previous three years. For more context: The recent take-privates are valued about half again as richly as the LBOs done during the previous buyout boom of 2006-07, when the average tech vendor went private for slightly less than 3x trailing sales, according to the M&A KnowledgeBase.

KB recent take-privates