Lam’s novel move

Contact: Thejeswi Venkatesh, Brenon Daly

At a time when chipmakers are lowering their outlook, citing the economic downturn and the flooding in Thailand, semiconductor equipment maker Lam Research on Wednesday announced its plan to acquire Novellus Systems for $3.3bn in equity. The deal comes a little over a month after Novellus’ primary competitor and industry leader Applied Materials Inc closed its $4.9bn acquisition of Varian Semiconductor. Novellus stockholders will receive 1.125 shares of Lam for each share they own, representing a per-share price of $44.42. Novellus hasn’t traded that high since 2002.

Lam’s offer values Novellus at 7.9 times trailing EBITDA, which is only about half the 14.3x valuation that Varian received in May. (Similarly, Novellus is being valued at only about half the price-to-sales multiple of Varian, 2x trailing compared with 4x trailing for its rival.) However, we believe the deterioration in market conditions and the fact that Novellus is coming off two years of operating losses account for the lower multiple. In any case, the market seems to back the price Lam is planning to pay because shares are largely unchanged on the announcement. Goldman Sachs advised Lam, while Bank of America Merrill Lynch banked Novellus. This is Lam’s first notable purchase since 2007, when it bought EZ Holding for $568m.