The German giant’s gamble

Contact: Brenon Daly

In the largest software transaction in more than two years, SAP plans to pick up mobility software and database vendor Sybase for a net cost of $5.8bn. SAP’s all-cash bid of $65 per share represents a 44% premium over the three-month average closing price for Sybase. More dramatically, SAP’s offer represents the highest price for Sybase stock in the target’s two decades as a public company.

The purchase, which is expected to close in July, represents a big bet by the German giant on the future of mobile applications. The two companies have partnered for more than a year, with SAP offering mobile CRM and Business Suite applications on Sybase’s Unwired Platform. Currently, mobile products account for one-third of revenue at Sybase, which started life as a database vendor. Within the database segment, Sybase also has an analytic database (Sybase IQ) that has been generating most of the growth in recent years.

At an enterprise value of $5.8bn, SAP is valuing Sybase at basically 5 times sales. (Sybase generated revenue of $1.1bn in 2009 and recently guided Wall Street to expect about 6% sales growth this year.) That’s roughly in line with the multiple SAP paid in its other large deal, the $6.8bn acquisition of Business Objects in October 2007. It’s not out of whack with SAP’s own valuation. The company trades at about 4 times sales, and that’s before any acquisition premium is figured in. Viewed another way, SAP trades at roughly 14 times cash flow, while it is paying 15 times cash flow for Sybase.