What’s new at Novell?

Contact: Brenon Daly

Even though its shareholders aren’t overwhelmingly concerned with Novell’s financial numbers right now, the company will nonetheless be releasing results for its fiscal second quarter later Thursday afternoon. For what it’s worth, Wall Street expects earnings of about $0.07 per share on sales of $205m, representing year-over-year declines on both the top and bottom lines. (We should add that if Novell does manage to hit expectations, it will snap two straight quarters of earnings whiffs.)

But then Novell hasn’t traded on fundamentals for the past three months, ever since hedge fund Elliott Associates launched an unsolicited offer for the company. Novell, which is being advised by JP Morgan Securities, stiffed the bid, but did leave the door open to other ‘alternatives to enhance shareholder value.’ Since Elliott floated the offer, shares of Novell have basically changed hands at or above the $5.75-per-share bid.

As a decidedly mixed bag of businesses, Novell isn’t the cleanest match for any other company that might want to take it home. For that reason, most speculation around a possible buyer for Novell has centered on private equity firms. (The buyout shops are undoubtedly licking their chops at the prospect of picking up Novell’s $600m of maintenance and subscription revenue, not to mention the $1bn that sits in the company’s treasury.) However, we understand from a person familiar with the process that there are a handful of strategic buyers still interested in Novell.

If we were to put forward one potential suitor that could probably benefit more than any other company in picking up Novell’s broad portfolio of businesses, we might single out SAP. OK, we know it’ll never happen. (Never, ever.) But a hypothetical pairing certainly does go a long way toward filling a few notable gaps in SAP’s offering, while also making the German giant far more competitive with Oracle.

Consider this fact: some 70% of SAP apps that run on Linux run on Novell’s SUSE Linux Enterprise. Add in Novell’s additional technology around identity and access management, systems management, virtualization and other areas, and SAP’s stack suddenly looks a lot more competitive with Oracle’s stack. Again, an SAP-Novell deal will never happen, but the combination certainly does lend itself to some intriguing speculation.

Timeline: Novell in the crosshairs

Date Event Comment
March 2, 2010 Elliott Associates launches unsolicited bid of $5.75 per share for Novell The offer values Novell at a $2bn equity value but only a $1bn enterprise value
March 20, 2010 Novell rejects Elliott’s bid as ‘inadequate’ By our calculation, Elliott is valuing Novell at just 1.6 times its maintenance/subscription revenue

Source: The 451 Group

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