Divesting at any costs

Contact: Brenon Daly

We recently noted how VCs are having to settle for scrap sales as they go through a bit of portfolio clean-out. But, hey, at least the value destroyed in each of the companies is only in the tens of millions of dollars. Companies that have been recently cleaning out their own portfolios in the form of divestitures have been eating hundreds of millions of dollars. Even billions of dollars.

Last week, two companies were in the news for what we would consider ‘divest at any cost’ transactions. First up, Motorola unwound its two-year-old purchase of Good Technology. After paying about $500m in November 2006 for Good, we would guess that Motorola almost certainly received less than $50m in selling the mobile messaging infrastructure vendor to privately held Visto. (At least there was something left to sell. The same can’t be said of Intellisync, which Nokia bought three years ago for $354.3m but recently said it will be shuttering.)

More dramatically, Nortel Networks looks likely to pocket just two pennies for every $1,000 that it handed over for Alteon WebSystems in mid-2000. (Keep in mind, however, that Nortel paid the $7.8bn total is stock, not cash.) The bankrupt telecom equipment vendor has put Alteon on the block, and the reported frontrunner is Israel-based Radware, which has put forward a bid of some $14m. (Since Nortel filed for Chapter 11, Alteon is being sold under an auction process run by the bankruptcy court, and other bidders could emerge.) As a final thought on both the Motorola and pending Nortel divestitures, we would note that both castoff divisions are landing in other companies, rather than a buyout shop.