A Double-Take takeout?

Contact: Brenon Daly

Never mind the business, somebody has their eye on Double-Take Software. The file-replication software vendor said Monday that it came up short in its first-quarter performance, continuing the struggles that it saw throughout 2009. Last year, maintenance revenue flat-lined, while license sales dropped by one-quarter. And although the first quarter is starting off a bit underwhelming, Double-Take is still projecting that it will grow this year. However, even if the company hits the high end of its estimate of $95m, sales for 2010 will still fall just short of 2008’s level of $96m.

Apparently, that lackluster performance hasn’t dimmed the company’s appeal. As Double-Take was announcing its Q1 miss, it also said – in an ‘Oh, by the way…’ manner – that it had received an ‘unsolicited, non-binding’ expression of interest from an unnamed suitor. No terms were revealed so it’s hard to know, specifically, what’s on offer to Double-Take shareholders. The company says only that the bid is ‘above recent trading prices.’ Does ‘recent’ mean a bit under $9, where shares have been since early February? Or does ‘recent’ also include the period in January when shares changed hands above $10, before the company warned (for the first time) that the quarter was coming in a bit light? On the report, Double-Take stock jumped 15% to $10.05 in Monday afternoon trading.

As to who might have floated the bid, it strikes us that this looks like a private equity (PE) play. If a strategic buyer wanted Double-Take, we don’t see it approaching the company in such a fast-and-loose way. Besides, there are basically only two companies that would make obvious bidders: Dell and Hewlett-Packard. The two tech giants are Double-Take’s main channel partners, with Dell accounting for a full 17% of the company’s revenue on its own. Also, both vendors could presumably benefit from Double-Take’s large customer base of SMBs, which numbers more than 22,000. Of course, an auction could draw out any interested strategic player, so the potential bidders aren’t necessarily limited to HP and Dell.

But as we say, we think this offer came from a buyout shop. And we can certainly understand Double-Take’s attractiveness to a financial buyer. In short, it’s cheap. Even with the stock’s pop on Monday, the company still only garners a market cap of about $220m. And the net cost is even cheaper, because the debt-free, profitable vendor carries almost $100m in cash on its balance sheet. At an enterprise value of just $120m, Double-Take is valued at less than three times its maintenance stream. That’s a valuation that any number of PE firms probably figure they could make money on.