A happy anniversary for Brocade-Foundry

Contact: Brenon Daly

As far as Wall Street is concerned, nothing has really happened to Brocade Communications over the past year. Shares in the storage and networking vendor trade exactly where they did this time last July. And yet, there have been monumental changes at the company during that time. Exactly a year ago today, Brocade announced its largest and riskiest deal: the $3bn purchase of Foundry Networks. The transaction faced a number of challenges, both in terms of strategy and execution. And compounding those difficulties was the fact that Brocade would be closing the acquisition during the most severe economic slowdown since the Great Depression.

For starters, Brocade was planning to borrow some $1.4bn of the $3bn purchase price. In normal times, that wouldn’t be a problem for a cash-producer like Brocade. But with the credit markets frozen last fall and people wondering about the economic outlook, borrowing seemed unlikely. (The uncertainty around the economy led the two sides to trim the final purchase price to just $2.6bn in late October; the transaction closed in mid-December.) Beyond the question of financing the pickup, folks questioned the wisdom of a deal that would move the combined company even more directly into competition with Cisco Systems, the most successful networking vendor of the modern era.

That thought certainly spooked investors. As soon as the pairing was announced, Wall Street knocked some 20% off Brocade shares and continued to put pressure on them well into this year. At their lows in early March, Brocade shares had lost some three-quarters of their value since the announcement of the acquisition. (That compares to a 40% decline in the Nasdaq during the same period.) The slide left Brocade in the absurd situation of sporting a market capitalization of just over $800m, despite tracking to generate about $1.9bn in sales in the current fiscal year. It was also a rather damning assessment of the Foundry buy, given that Wall Street was valuing the combined Brocade-Foundry entity at just one-third the amount that Brocade had valued Foundry.

It turns out that the market dramatically undervalued Brocade. Since bottoming out, its shares have quadrupled, giving the vendor a current market capitalization of $3.4bn. That run has left Brocade shares flat over the past year, while the Nasdaq is down some 18% during that time. Brocade has also slightly outperformed rival Cisco over the past year.

Wall Street seems to be digesting the fact that Brocade may actually be able to survive – even thrive – in its fight with Cisco. (For its part, Cisco hasn’t been helping its own cause. Recent actions, including introducing a new server offering, have created more enemies than friends.) Meanwhile, Brocade has integrated Foundry a quarter or two earlier than planned and has been pitching itself as a viable alternative to the giant. Despite a tough beginning, that message is starting to resonate with customers.