Some unlikely M&A agitation against BMC

Contact: Brenon Daly

Having already agitated for the sale of at least five tech businesses over the past few years, Elliott Associates has set its sights on a significantly bigger target: BMC. The hedge fund said on Monday that it has acquired 5% of the systems management giant and will push for a sale of the company.

For its part, BMC retained Morgan Stanley to advise it on its defense against the unwanted approach and, more importantly, adopted a poison pill that makes any unsolicited deal highly unlikely to succeed. Nonetheless, the idea that BMC could get sold goosed the company’s shares, which added 9% in mid-Monday trading.

From our view, however, it’s highly unlikely that 32-year-old BMC, which has been public since August 1988, will get snapped up. The first – and most obvious – hurdle is the poison pill, or ‘shareholder rights plan’ in the company’s description. But even beyond that, there aren’t very many companies or (probably more relevantly) buyout shops that could write the $10bn or so check that it would take to clear BMC.

For a strategic buyer, we’ve always thought Cisco Systems would be the logical home for BMC. The two companies have partnered around the datacenter, with Cisco providing the gear and BMC serving up the management layer. However, the returns on that partnership haven’t been overwhelming, and Cisco has taken to acquiring small management vendors on its own over the past year and a half. (To bolster its management portfolio, Cisco has reached for startups such as LineSider Technologies, Pari Networks and newScale.) But Cisco, which reported weak financial results last week while also forecasting a ‘cautious’ IT spending environment, is hardly in a place to do its largest-ever acquisition.

That would leave private equity firms as the most likely acquirer of BMC. Those shops have been the buyers of the other companies that Elliott has put in play, including Epicor Software, Blue Coat Systems, Novell and others. However, the collective value of all those Elliott-inspired deals would likely be only half the size of a BMC purchase, which would be a whopper for any single firm. (That goes double because of the reserved credit markets right now.)

The last point underscores one of the other large problems with a BMC takeout: even though its shares have lost nearly 20% of their value over the past year, the company isn’t particularly cheap. It garners a $7.2bn market capitalization, so throwing a 35% premium on that takes the (hypothetical) acquisition price to about $10bn. That works out to about 4.6 times 2011 revenue (10x maintenance revenue) and more than 12x the $800m in cash flow from operations that BMC generated last year. Even with the $1.4bn cash ‘rebate’ from BMC’s treasury, any potential buyer is still looking at paying a double-digit cash-flow multiple for a single-digit grower.

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