Monitise pays out now for payoff later

Contact: Ben Kolada

Mobile banking and payments vendor Monitise made a big bet on Monday when it moved to consolidate its industry with the acquisition of startup Clairmail. At first glance, the deal should have set off alarms among Monitise’s investors. The all-stock transaction will significantly dilute Monitise’s shareholders, leaving them owning three-quarters of the combined company. However, its investors remained calm – Monitise’s share price closed down only 2%. Why? Although the deal is richly valued and dilutes Monitise’s shareholders, those same investors are all but assured of their own rich payoff eventually.

Another explanation for the muted shareholder response is that the transaction only seems overvalued on the surface. It is actually fairly valued by several metrics. Monitise’s £109m ($173m) offer values Clairmail at 9.3 times trailing sales, a smidgen below its own current 10x enterprise value (Monitise held $68m in net cash at the end of 2011, while Clairmail had $5m). Further, Monitise is also obtaining more valuable customers. Clairmail had 48 banking customers generating a total of $18m in revenue last year, or about $375,000 per customer. Monitise, meanwhile, had more than 250 customers, each of which generated an average of less than $150,000 in annual revenue. And because of Clairmail’s growth rate (its revenue jumped 90% in 2011), its price-to-projected-sales valuation is certain to be much lower. Further placating investors, Monitise is forecasting continued heady growth. The combined company, which would have generated $56m in revenue in 2011 on a pro forma basis, is projecting 2012 total revenue close to $100m.

There’s certainly no reason for alarm among the acquirer’s investors, considering valuations across the mobile payments industry are already high and the potential for Monitise itself to one day find a fruitful takeover offer. In July, eBay announced that it was buying Zong for $240m. And in June, Visa announced that it was buying Fundamo for $110m, or about 11x estimated trailing sales. The latter deal is of particular note, given the growing relationship between Visa and Monitise. Following the Fundamo buy, will Visa make a larger play in mobile payments, perhaps by acquiring Monitise? The two companies are already partners – Visa Europe made a $38m investment in Monitise in October, the two companies equally share a joint venture in India and Visa Europe president and CEO Peter Ayliffe sits on Monitise’s board. And as of February 28, Visa and Visa Europe combined owned 21% of Monitise’s equity.

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Where to go after the sale?

Contact: Brenon Daly, Thejeswi Venkatesh

In an effort to bolster its Smart Grid offering, Siemens AG reached earlier this week for eMeter, a company that the German giant had invested in three years ago. The sale comes after San Mateo, California-based eMeter had looked to raise a round of funding last summer, on top of the roughly $70m it had already raised.

Along with Siemens, other investors in eMeter included Foundation Capital, Sequoia Capital and Northgate Capital. And while the returns may not have been electrifying (if you’ll pardon the pun), we understand that the investors will actually book a decent gain. (Subscribers to The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase can click here to see our record of the transaction, which includes our estimates for both the revenue and sale price of eMeter.)

The ink was barely dry on the agreement when rumors started flying about what eMeter CEO Gary Bloom would be doing now that he has free time on his hands. (Understandably, he won’t be joining Siemens when the deal closes this month.) A longtime former Oracle executive, Bloom is perhaps best known for heading up Veritas at the time of its sale to Symantec, the largest-ever software transaction.

The most intriguing bit of gossip around a possible job for Bloom is that he may step into a senior sales role at BMC, a company where he also serves on the board. Candidly, the Houston-based company could use some additions in that area, as it has seen a number of key departures of sales executives (Luca Lazzaron, Jim Drill) in the past few months. Once a steady performer, BMC has come up short of Wall Street estimates recently. The sluggish growth has clipped one-third of the value of BMC shares since last summer, sending them to their lowest level in more than a year.

A renaissance of PE interest in Renaissance

Contact: Brenon Daly

In 2010, PLATO Learning went private in a relatively straightforward process that took just two months from Thoma Bravo’s announcement of the leveraged buyout (LBO) of the online education vendor to the close of it. Now, privately held PLATO is drawing out – and making more expensive – the LBO of fellow online education provider Renaissance Learning. PLATO has been part of a bidding war for Renaissance that has been playing out since mid-August.

In the original offer, buyout firm Permira planned to acquire Renaissance, which has been public since 1997, in a deal valued at $440m. (Somewhat unusually, terms call for Permira to pay one price for Renaissance’s common shares that trade on the Nasdaq while paying a lower price to the cofounders of the company, who control 69% of the equity.) PLATO then topped Permira’s opening bid a week later.

Earlier this week, Permira raised its offer, as did PLATO. However, the board continues to support the Permira bid – even though it values Renaissance at $16m less than the offer from PLATO. The reason? The cofounders don’t want to sell to PLATO. Other shareholders, who represent the remaining 31% of Renaissance equity, will have a chance to vote on Permira’s offer on October 17

A little something for your trouble

Contact: Brenon Daly

Breaking up is hard to do. And it can be expensive, too. But as a pair of deals this week shows, the costs aren’t necessarily borne equally by the two sides in a planned transaction. In the higher-profile case, the market is buzzing that Google may be on the hook for a $2.5bn payment to Motorola Mobility if that deal unravels. If that’s the case, the payment (known as a reverse breakup fee) would be 6-7 times larger than the payment Google would stand to pocket if Motorola Mobility walks away from the transaction.

That gap is much wider than is seen in deals that feature reverse breakup fees, where a would-be buyer might face a fee that would be closer to twice the amount the seller might pay. That’s how it is, for instance, in Permira’s planned $440m buyout of education software maker Renaissance Learning. According to terms of Tuesday’s leveraged buyout (LBO), if Permira walks away from the transaction, it will have to come up with $26m, or nearly 6% of the equity value of the proposed deal. On the other side, if Renaissance Learning backs away, it will have to hand over just $13m, or about 3% of the equity value.

Reverse breakup fees have long been an accepted way for a would-be seller to receive compensation for any risks in getting a transaction closed. (The rationale is that the disruption in business due to an acquisition is much greater to the target company than the acquirer, so the greater potential risk is offset by a greater potential reward.) Of course, these fees are far more common in LBOs than when the deal is struck between two companies, like Google buying Motorola Mobility. But then again, the search giant – going back to its Dutch auction IPO and continuing to today’s practice of not giving quarterly financial guidance – has never been a company that really follows Wall Street convention.

ACI looks to crash S1’s wedding

Contact: Brenon Daly

Just a month after announcing its largest-ever acquisition, S1 Corp has found itself unexpectedly (and perhaps unwelcomely) on the other end of a potential transaction. The payments software maker agreed in late June to acquire Fundtech in a stock swap valued at $326m. On Tuesday, ACI Worldwide sought to play the spoiler in that planned marriage, pitching an unsolicited offer to S1 that it says holds ‘significant upside’ compared to the proposed Fundtech deal.

ACI is offering $9.50 in cash and stock for each share of S1, for total consideration of $540m. The bear hug represents a premium of 33% over S1’s previous closing price and the highest price for the stock since late 2004. ACI says it has the financing lined up and could close the deal by the end of the year. Although S1 hasn’t responded to ACI’s proposal, its stock traded in line with the offer, changing hands on Tuesday afternoon at about $9.35.

In some ways, the current interest in S1 is about a half-decade overdue. We speculated in September 2006 that the company was likely on its way out. At that time, S1 was busy unwinding some misguided deals that it had inked years earlier as part of a larger ‘strategic review.’ (The divestitures came at a time when activist hedge fund Ramius Capital was the company’s largest shareholder.) Had it made its move then, ACI could have picked up the company on the cheap: S1 was trading at half the level of ACI’s current bid.

Epiq’s expensive e-discovery deal

Contact: Brenon Daly

Announcing the largest e-discovery deal in some three-and-a-half years, Epiq Systems said earlier this week that it will borrow $100m to acquire Encore Discovery Solutions, a service provider for law firms. (My colleague Nick Patience has the full details on the acquisition.) The rationale is fairly straightforward: Epiq wanted to shore up its presence in the western US, so it reached for Phoenix-based Encore. That sort of geographic consolidation happens all the time – but it rarely happens at the kind of valuation that Epiq is paying in its services play.

Encore had generated some $40m in revenue, according to Epiq, meaning it’s trading at 2.5 times sales. That’s a fairly high multiple for a services shop, which typically have lumpy – and concentrated – revenue. (That goes double for a market like e-discovery that is largely driven by unpredictable events like lawsuits.) Unlike Epiq, Encore didn’t have its own e-discovery software, instead licensing it from other vendors. Clearly, however, the lack of IP didn’t hurt Encore’s price.

More representative of the e-discovery market is probably Unify Corp’s purchase last summer of Daegis. Unify paid $37.5m, or 1.6x sales, for Daegis, which generates about half of its sales from tools and the other half from associated services. But from Epiq’s view, the purchase of Encore sets up a relatively low threshold for a return (it is borrowing at around 3.5%) and adds bulk to a business that has a fair amount of momentum. Epiq said recently that its e-discovery business has posted five straight quarters of growth, finishing 2010 with sales at the unit up 45% to a record $81m.

Ariba ‘mines’ for its latest deal

Contact: Brenon Daly

After three years out of the market, Ariba returned to M&A on Thursday with the $150m purchase of Quadrem. Both the current deal and the previous one help bolster the supply-chain vendor’s offering in new markets. In the case of Procuri, which was acquired in September 2007, Ariba picked up a company that was targeting small businesses. With its latest transaction, Ariba adds an offering geared for corporate giants, specifically some of the largest mining companies on earth. It also gets further into markets outside the US.

Quadrem was founded 10 years ago, and is still majority owned by a quartet of multinational mining giants (BHP Billiton, Anglo American, Rio Tinto and Vale SA). While sales to mining companies accounted for essentially all of Quadrem’s revenue in its early days, the vendor diversified into other industries in recent years. Currently, mining generates about half of Quadrem’s revenue, with the other half coming from other industries such as oil and gas as well as manufacturing.

Under terms of the deal, Quadrem’s four principal companies have extra incentive to keep using Quadrem even after the sale to Ariba closes, which is expected by next March. The reason: Ariba has held back $25m in payment and will kick in another $25m to the four companies as long as they are still using the network three years from now. Ariba says it expects to pay out the full amount. (Morgan Stanley advised Ariba on its purchase.)

Assuming that Ariba does indeed hand over the full $150m, the transaction would value Quadrem a smidge above two times this year’s projected sales of about $70m. For its part, Ariba trades at more than twice that valuation. It currently garners a market cap of about $1.7bn, compared to projected sales for calendar 2010 of about $370m. Incidentally, since Ariba last announced an acquisition three years ago, its shares have basically doubled while the Nasdaq has flatlined.

No recession for mobile advertising M&A

-Contact Thomas Rasmussen

Following Google’s purchase of AdMob in November, we predicted a resurgence in mobile advertising M&A. That’s just what has happened and, we believe, the consolidation is far from having run its course. Apple, which we understand was also vying for AdMob, acquired Quattro Wireless for an estimated $275m at the beginning of the year. At approximately $15m in estimated net revenue, the deal was about as pricey as Google’s shopping trip for its own mobile advertising startup. And just last week, Norwegian company Opera Software stepped into the market as well, acquiring AdMarvel for $8m plus a $15m earnout. We understand that San Mateo, California-based AdMarvel, which is running at an estimated $3m in annual net sales, had been looking to raise money when potential investor Opera suggested an outright acquisition instead.

These transactions underscore the fact that mobile advertising will play a decisive role in shaping the mobile communications business in the coming years. For instance, vendors can now use advertising to offset the costs of providing services (most notably, turn-by-turn directions) that were formerly covered by subscription fees. Just last week, Nokia matched Google’s move from last year by offering free turn-by-turn directions on all of its smartphones. Navigation is only the beginning for ad-based services as mobile devices get more powerful and smarter through localization and personal preferences.

While traditional startups such as Amobee will continue to see interest from players wanting a presence in the space, we believe the next company that could enjoy a high-value exit like AdMob or Quattro will come from the ranks that offer unique location-based mobile advertising such as 1020 Placecast. The San Francisco-based firm, which has raised an estimated $9m in two rounds, is a strategic partner of Nokia’s NavTeq. As such, we would not be surprised to see Nokia follow the lead of its neighbor Opera by reaching across the Atlantic to secure 1020 Placecast for itself.

Amex buys into the alternative online payments revolution

-Contact Thomas Rasmussen

As the first significant deal that adds online payments technology to a legacy payment platform, American Express’ recent $300m acquisition of Revolution Money essentially amounts to a shot across the bow of eBay’s PayPal and Google’s CheckOut. The relatively rich purchase of four-year-old Revolution Money also stands as the third-largest alternative online payments buy to date, trailing only eBay’s pickups of PayPal and Bill Me Later. We estimate that Revolution Money, which had taken some $100m in venture funding, was running at around $10m-$20m in sales.

The alternative payments market is both large and fragmented, and is likely to see substantial consolidation in the coming years. It is also a space that has had difficulties in establishing a coherent offering, with early efforts ranging from ill-conceived ‘sci-fi-esque’ biometrics offerings to SMS-based payment methods. Until recently, it has mostly been marred by failed startups, poorly executed acquisitions and fire sales. Nonetheless, thanks to the continuing success of PayPal and new alternatives (Google Checkout, among others), as well as the boom in online micro-transactions and an uptick in general online shopping, the sector is again gaining favor, particularly as a way to cut transaction costs.

Looking ahead, we believe Amex’s acquisition of Revolution Money will serve as a wakeup call to other legacy payments vendors as well as financial institutions that might now look to do some catch-up shopping of their own. This inevitable consolidation should serve as good news for some of the established startups in the industry such as mPayy, Moneta, eBillme and Secure Vault Payments, among many others. These firms could well find themselves getting some overdue attention in 2010 as alternative online payments continue to gain currency.

Cyber Monday’s here

-Contact Thomas Rasmussen, Brenon Daly

Even though the receipts from Black Friday, the traditional retailers’ launch of the holiday shopping season, weren’t much bigger than they were last year, online retailers on Cyber Monday appeared to be ringing up a pretty good business this year. Amid all of the cyber-shopping, we couldn’t help but notice that there has also been a fair amount of buying of the shopping sites themselves. For instance, Amazon recently wrapped up its $847m all-stock acquisition of online apparel retailer Zappos. This stands as Amazon’s largest purchase, nearly three times larger than its second-largest buy. (We should also note that when the deal closed earlier this month, the equity was worth a whopping $1.2bn thanks to the recent surge in Amazon shares. The stock, which hit an all-time high on Monday, has risen some 62% over the past three months.) While overall M&A spending this year appears likely to be half the amount of 2008, online retail dealmaking is still going strong. We expect spending on Internet commerce acquisitions to come in roughly where it did in previous years, at some $2.3bn worth of transactions in the sector.

Meanwhile, another e-commerce vendor continues its push for a different exit. filed to go public in late September, and appears to be on track for a debut early next year. The online electronics retailer, which was founded in 2001, has more than doubled sales over the past four years while also posting a profit in each of those years. Although growth has slowed so far this year, Newegg still raked in $2.2bn in revenue and $70m in EBITDA for the four quarters that ended last June.

Given the recent trend in dual-track offerings, we wonder if Newegg might not get snapped up before it hits the Nasdaq under the ticker ‘EGGZ.’ Granted, this is pure speculation, but there are a fair number of parallels between Newegg and Zappos, which could mean that Amazon will reach for it. (Both Newegg and Zappos have developed profitable, growing businesses by specializing in a slice of the market that Amazon has tried – but failed – to dominate.) Additionally, electronics retailers such as Best Buy could well be interested in bolstering their online sales units with Newegg. Although Newegg and its underwriters haven’t set an initial valuation, we suspect that any buyer would have to be ready to hand over slightly more than $2bn to add Newegg to its shopping cart.

Online retail M&A

Period Number of deals Total deal value
2005 30 $1.27bn
2006 53 $3.78bn
2007 36 $2.62bn
2008 45 $1.36bn (excluding the sale of Getty Images)
2009 YTD 55 $2.34bn

Source: The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase