Intel buys Fulcrum to further datacenter product push

Contact: Thejeswi Venkatesh, Ben Kolada

In a move that further boosts its 10-Gigabit Ethernet push, Intel has announced that it will acquire Fulcrum Microsystems, a fabless semiconductor company that developed the fully integrated FocalPoint family of 10Gb and 40Gb Ethernet switch chips. The acquisition advances Intel’s desire to transform itself into a comprehensive datacenter provider that offers computing, storage and networking building blocks.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed, though we estimate that Fulcrum generated about $13m in revenue in the 12 months before its sale. For a comparable transaction, we could look to Broadcom’s November 2009 acquisition of Dune Networks for about 3 times trailing sales, or twice the median for all semiconductor design deals announced so far this year. However, given Fulcrum’s strategic importance to Intel, we wouldn’t be surprised if its valuation is not only higher than the median, but also surpasses Dune’s. We would also note that Intel already had an insider’s view into Fulcrum – its venture investment arm, Intel Capital, provided mezzanine financing to Fulcrum in 2010.

Connecting thousands of nodes at maximum bandwidth is the holy grail of datacenter networking. Fulcrum’s FocalPoint portfolio provides high-performance, low-latency network switches to support evolving cloud architectures and the growth of converged networks in the enterprise. Intel’s earlier foray on this front was with InfiniBand, which it supported for many years before finally being squeezed out by faster, ultra-low-latency architectures like AMD’s HyperTransport consortium on the one end and on the other end by cheaper but slightly slower 10GigE. Intel has been supportive of 10Gb architecture and this acquisition further enhances that strategy. More importantly, 10GigE makes more sense for Intel if it is looking for a common single interconnect architecture for datacenters, since all applications run on it anyway.

Divestitures and deal flow

Contact: Brenon Daly

Qualcomm’s recent pickup of graphics and multimedia assets cast off by Advanced Micro Devices continued a trend toward divestitures by major technology companies. Nokia, Verisign, Rackable Systems and Symantec, among others, all sold parts of their business in 2008. And, more specific to the chip industry, AMD’s rival Intel has done more selling than buying over the past three years. (For the record, AMD sold technology to Qualcomm that the wireless company had licensed for several years. Qualcomm will hand over $65m for the unit.)

We expect that more companies will look to sell off segments in 2009, as Wall Street increases the pressure on them to focus on their core business. (We have noted in the past that Symantec, which will have a change at the chief executive spot in April, is a prime candidate for further divestitures.) In 2008, spending on divested business units accounted for some 11% of all M&A activity. That’s up from just 7% in 2007. We wouldn’t be surprised at all to see divestiture spending remain in the double digits in 2009.

Of ‘corrections’ and ‘recalibrations’

Since the beginning of September, a new euphemism has found its way into Wall Street parlance: ‘recalibration.’ It is a close cousin to the original euphemism, ‘correction.’ In fact, the pair of linguistically neutral terms are often popping up in the same sentence, such as ‘Given the market’s correction, we have recalibrated the deal.’ We gather that’s a lot more sensitive than saying, ‘Look, stocks have gone to hell, so we slashed the deal.’

Whatever the language, we saw two cases of this on Wednesday. Not unexpectedly, Brocade ‘amended’ its offer to buy Foundry, originally inked in late July. (‘Did we say $3bn? We meant $2.6bn.’) And Broadcom took a pair of scissors to its agreement to buy AMD’s digital television unit, cutting 25% from the price.

At least the deals will get done (probably). The same can’t be said for a transaction a banker described for us yesterday over coffee. Working on the sell-side, the banker and his client hammered out an agreement with a strategic acquirer over the summer. Terms called for the buyer to pay about $30m, about $25m of that in cash, the rest in equity. As shares in the would-be buyer ‘corrected,’ the company ‘recalibrated’ the price down to about $20m. The final kicker: the company planned to pay in stock. The would-be target is ‘recalibrating’ its interest in the offer.

Transmeta: No money? No credit? No problem

Just how desperate is Transmeta to get sold? Well, the pitch from the former high-flying semiconductor IP vendor now sounds like something we usually hear on late-night TV: easy financing. (‘No money? No credit? No problem. At Transmeta, we’re ready to do a deal with you.’) And honestly, that’s one of the only selling points left at the company, which retained Piper Jaffray six months ago to advise it on a possible sale. On Wednesday, Transmeta removed the word ‘possible’ and said it was starting the sale of the company. Shares jumped 20%, giving Transmeta a market capitalization of about $200m.

The financing comes into play because Intel, which had been slated to pay $100m to Transmeta in equal installments over the next five years, is writing a lump-sum check for $92m in the next few days. That’s on top of the $150m Intel has already paid to settle a patent lawsuit with Transmeta. As the company has noted, the settlement ‘strengthens’ its balance sheet, which effectively greases a deal by having the cash on hand to finance a transaction. Given the frozen credit markets, that’s not insignificant.

As to who might buy Transmeta, a year ago my colleague, Greg Quick, tapped Advanced Micro Devices as the most-obvious buyer. AMD, which licenses Transmeta technology, also owns a stake in Transmeta through its purchase of a block of preferred shares last year. Other companies that license Transmeta technology, including Sony, Toshiba and Fujitsu, also might be interested but are probably long shots. Whoever does end up buying Transmeta will get a bargain on the company, which never lived up to its hype. Transmeta’s sale price is likely to be in the neighborhood of one-tenth of the company’s valuation at its IPO eight years ago.

Chipping away

It’s one down and (at least) one to go for AMD. The battered chip maker moved earlier this week to dump its digital TV (DTV) chip business to longtime partner Broadcom. AMD will pocket $193m in cash from the divestiture. Although the unit had been on the block for some time, AMD got a decent price for the cast-off. We understand the DTV unit was generating in the neighborhood of $150m in sales, meaning AMD got more than the typical ‘1x and done’ divestiture multiple. Further, we would note that the valuation of the DTV business at 1.3x sales is about twice AMD’s own price-to-sales valuation.

With one of the legacy ATI Technologies businesses off the books, AMD can move on to unwinding yet another part of that disastrous acquisition. (Since AMD spent $5.4bn in cash and stock on graphics chip company ATI two years ago, shares of the second-largest chipmaker for computers have plummeted 70%.) The next unit on the auction block: Processors for multimedia applications that run on mobile phones. Rival Intel made a similar move two years ago, selling its communications processor unit to Marvell Technology for $600m, which valued the unit at an estimated 1.5x sales. We suspect AMD would be perfectly happy with that kind of valuation in any divestiture of its mobile business. As to who might be on the other side of the deal, two companies come immediately to mind: Qualcomm is always on the lookout for more IP, and communications chipmaker Atheros has done three acquisitions in the past two years and is said to be looking for more.

Corporate castoffs

Look who’s hitting the corporate garage sales these days – other corporations. While divestitures used to go most often straight to private equity shops, more than a few castoff businesses are now finding homes inside new companies. The latest example: AMD’s sale of its digital TV chip division Monday to Broadcom for $193m.

Given AMD’s struggles, as well as the fact that rival Intel has shed a number of businesses in recent years, the divestiture wasn’t a surprise. In fact, my colleague Greg Quick noted two weeks ago that AMD was likely to dump its TV chip business, naming Broadcom as one of the likely acquirers.

On the buy side, Broadcom joins fellow publicly traded companies Overland Storage, L-1 Identity Solutions and Software AG, among others, that picked up properties from other listed companies this year. That’s not to say that buyout firms have been knocked out of the market, despite the tight credit conditions. PE shops Vector Capital, Thoma Cressey Bravo and Battery Ventures have all taken businesses off the books of publicly traded companies in 2008.

Still, the activity by the corporate shoppers is noteworthy. And the list is likely to grow as more companies look to clean up their operations during the lingering bear market. The next name we may well add to the list is Rackable Systems, which said earlier this month that it is looking to shed its RapidScale business. (The divestiture would effectively unwind its acquisition two years ago of Terrascale Technologies, and comes after a gadfly investor buzzed Rackable for much of the year.)

As to who might be eyeing the assets, we doubt there are many hardware vendors interested in RapidScale, because they have either made acquisitions (Sun’s purchase of Cluster File Systems, for instance) or have partnerships (both EMC and Dell partner with Ibrix). However, a service provider could use the technology to enhance its storage-as-a-service offering. In a similar move, we’ve seen telecom giants like BT and Verizon pick up security vendors to offer that as a service. And finally, we’d throw out a dark horse: Amazon, which is one of Rackable’s largest customers, could use RapidScale’s clustered storage technology to bolster its S3 offering.

Post-acquisition decapitation

The write-offs from wrong-headed acquisitions just keep coming. And we don’t mean just financial write-offs. Instead, we’re referring to the practice of a company’s board ‘writing off’ the executives who crafted a deal. This week’s high-profile example came when Alcatel-Lucent finally tossed overboard the two architects of ‘la grande fusion.’ Since that deal was announced in April 2006, the combination has incinerated some $20bn over shareholder value, leaving the telco equipment vendor with a market capitalization of just $13.6bn. (That’s less than the sales the company posted in 2007.) That two-year performance finally got Serge Tchuruk, the company’s chairman who represents the Alcatel side of the combination, and Patricia Russo, the Lucent legacy, shown the door.

This house-cleaning at Acaltel-Lucent comes just two weeks after AMD kicked Hector Ruiz upstairs. In virtually the same breath that AMD announced Ruiz would be relieved of his CEO post but continue as chairman, the company said it will divest much of the business it picked up with its $5.4bn purchase of graphics chip maker ATI Technologies. Announcing the deal two years ago, Ruiz said his combination offered ‘limitless’ possibilities for innovation. Instead, the future of AMD looks rather limited, in large part because of the $2.5bn it borrowed to cover its disastrous purchase of ATI. AMD’s total debt stands at $5bn, compared with just $1.6bn in cash.

Meanwhile, a chief executive who we’ve always thought must be on the hot-seat for a misguided acquisition appears to have gotten a bit of a reprieve this week. Symantec CEO John Thompson said Wednesday that fiscal first-quarter sales of its backup products outpaced overall revenue growth. That reverses the recent weakness in the company’s storage offering, which Symantec acquired with its $13.5bn purchase of Veritas in December 2004. Wall Street applauded the company’s report, with shares up about 10% since Wednesday. Still, Thompson has yet to recognize much value from the three-and-half-year-old purchase of Veritas. Symantec shares, which changed hands at $21.74 midday on Friday, are still about $6 below where they were when the company picked up Veritas. Perhaps that goes some distance to explaining the loose rumors this week that something big – possibly the much-discussed divestiture of the storage business or even an outright sale of the company – was brewing at Symantec.

Leading the acquisition

Deal Stock performance since deal Status of acquiring company CEO since deal
Symantec-Veritas, Dec. 2004 Down 35% John Thompson, CEO since April 1999, continues to serve
Alcatel-Lucent, April 2006 Down 61% CEO Russo and chairman Tchuruk ousted this week
AMD-ATI, July 2006 Down 77% Long-time CEO Hector Ruiz replaced in mid-July
Secure Computing-CipherTrust, July 2006 Down 51% Chairman and CEO John McNulty replaced in April

Source: Company reports, The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase