Ness gets a scant sendoff

Contact: Brenon Daly

Three-quarters of Ness Technologies shareholders have backed the planned $307m take-private of the IT services vendor, clearing the way for the sale to Citi Venture Capital International (CVCI) to close by the end of the month. CVCI acquired nearly 10% of Ness in early 2008 and first offered to pick up the whole company in July 2010, according to the proxy filed in connection with the proposed deal.

Last summer, CVCI indicated that it would be looking to pay $5.50-5.75 for each Ness share it didn’t already own. Three financial buyers who also got involved in the bidding last fall indicated that they would be prepared to top that by about a dollar a share. In the end, CVCI agreed to pay $7.75 for each share, roughly one-third more than the opening bid from the buyout shop .

And yet, despite the topping bid, Ness is exiting the public market at what would appear to be a rather paltry valuation. The company recently reported that it was tracking to about $600m in sales for 2011, and yet is selling for just $307m. (Including Ness’ small net debt position, the enterprise value of the deal is $342m.) That works out to a scant 0.6 times trailing sales – just one-third the median price-to-sales valuation for US publicly traded companies so far this year, according to our calculations.

Some of that can be attributed to the fact that IT services vendors typically trade at a substantial discount to other technology firms. And yet, even within recent IT services deals, 0.6x trailing sales is the low end of the range for most acquisitions. (For instance, EDS went for that multiple in its sale to Hewlett-Packard in mid-2008, while Perot Systems got more than twice that (1.4x) in its purchase by Dell in September 2009.) In fact, Ness is selling to CVCI for a lower price than it fetched on the open market more than three years ago when the buyout shop first took its stake.