An exclusive ‘club’

Contact: Brenon Daly

The price of admission for a ‘club deal’ just got a bit more expensive. The trio of private equity (PE) firms bidding for Irish e-learning firm SkillSoft recently bumped their offer to $1.2bn, up from the original $1.1bn bid in mid-February. The buyout firms teaming up to take SkillSoft private are Berkshire Partners, Bain Capital and Advent International. According to terms, the trio will be using equity to cover slightly more than half of the purchase price ($680m, or 57% of the $1.2bn transaction).

The planned leveraged buyout (LBO) of SkillSoft is one of only three take-privates by a PE club since January 1, 2008 valued at more than $1bn. (That doesn’t include syndicate purchases of divestitures or other parts of companies, such as the carve-out of Skype from eBay by a quartet of firms.) When credit was flowing freely in 2006-07, multibillion-dollar LBOs were plentiful, which was a primary reason that overall spending on tech M&A in each of those years topped $400bn. In both 2006 and 2007, PE shops accounted for more than 20% of all money spent on tech deals.

The topping bid for SkillSoft comes at a time when overall PE spending is dropping to some of the lowest levels since it began to recover last year. After averaging about $9bn in both of the quarters since the US recession officially ended, the value of deals by PE firms fell to just $6bn in the recently completed first quarter. Incidentally, the decline of PE deal value matched almost exactly the drop-off in overall first-quarter tech M&A spending, which came in at the low end of the range that we’ve tallied in recent quarters. Click here to see our full report on first-quarter M&A.

PE activity

Period Deal volume Deal value
Q1 2010 63 $6bn
Q4 2009 92 $9.9bn
Q3 2009 83 $8bn
Q2 2009 76 $2.8bn
Q1 2009 46 $250m

Source: The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase