Flips and flops for PE shops

Contact: Brenon Daly

There are flips that fly, and flips that flop. Consider the two recent exits by private-equity (PE)-owned companies Skype Technologies and Freescale Semiconductor. One deal basically quadrupled the price of the portfolio company, while the other company is still lingering at a value of less than half its original purchase price. Granted, that ‘headline’ calculation misses some of the nuances of the holdings and their returns to the PE shops, but it’s nonetheless a solid reminder that deals need to be done with a focus on the ‘demand’ side of the exit.

For Skype’s PE ownership of Silver Lake Partners, Index Ventures and Andreessen Horowitz, the $8.5bn all-cash sale to Microsoft came less than two years after the consortium carved the VoIP provider out of eBay for just $2bn. The deal stands as the largest ever purchase by Microsoft, and the double-digit price-to-sales valuation suggests Redmond had to reach deep to take Skype off the board. Skype had filed to go public, but was also rumored to have attracted interest from Google as a possible buyer.

On the other hand, there wasn’t much demand for Freescale, which was coming public after undergoing the largest tech LBO in history. Freescale priced its recent IPO some 20% below the bottom end of its expected range. That had to be a painful concession for the PE owners of the company: Blackstone Group, Carlyle Group, Permira Funds and Texas Pacific Group. The club paid $17.6bn in mid-2006 for the semiconductor maker, loading up the company with billions in debt just as the market tanked. Freescale, which still carts around about $7.5bn in debt, has lower sales now than when it was taken private four years ago.