Maybe M&A for McAfee?

Contact: Brenon Daly, Andrew Hay

With the ink barely dry on the M&A papers of SolarWinds’ purchase of TriGeo, we understand that another deal in the enterprise security information management (ESIM) market may be already in the works. Several industry sources have indicated that McAfee and NitroSecurity are thought to be close to an agreement that would give Intel’s subsidiary a solid ESIM offering.

McAfee has been looking in this market for some time. We gather that the company lobbed a bid (thought be in the neighborhood of $600m) for ESIM kingpin ArcSight before that company went public in February 2008. More recently, we weren’t surprised to hear that McAfee was in the process early for ArcSight last summer but got outbid by Hewlett-Packard, which ended up paying $1.65bn, or a steep 8 times trailing revenue for ArcSight.

If the acquisition indeed comes together, NitroSecurity would make a great deal of sense for McAfee. NitroSecurity, which we understand is running at about $40m in revenue, sells big-ticket installations to enterprises and the federal government – a market that McAfee clearly wants to be in. (NitroSecurity is also one of the few security vendors that has been able to crack into the industrial control system market, which gives the company a shot at lucrative contracts securing some of the nation’s critical infrastructure.)

The only other ESIM provider of size that might also give McAfee a comparable presence in the enterprise market would be Q1 Labs. However, that firm has a deep relationship with Juniper Networks, which is its single largest OEM partner. Nonetheless, Q1 has ascribed itself a fairly rich valuation, according to sources. The market may well soon have its vote on that, as Q1 recently indicated that it is looking toward an IPO.

Big is back (sort of)

Contact: Brenon Daly

The number of big-ticket deals in 2010 jumped by one-quarter from the level posted in each of the past two years, an indication that buyers are once again open to a bit more risk. We tallied 40 transactions valued at $1bn or more last year, up from 32 in 2009 and 33 in 2008. One of the reasons for the rise in 2010 – unlike the two previous years – is that the acquirers had to top a pretty bullish tech market to secure their deals. Companies including Isilon Systems, Netezza, ArcSight and 3PAR all got taken off the board last year at their highest-ever valuation.

Also unlike the two previous years, we had a number of ‘serial shoppers’ on the list. Hewlett-Packard inked three 10-digit deals in 2010, while IBM and Intel each closed two of the big transactions as well. And it wasn’t just strategic buyers. The Carlyle Group announced a pair of billion-dollar acquisitions – on back-to-back days, no less. Overall, buyout shops accounted for seven deals last year valued at more than $1bn, up from four in 2008 and five in 2009.

10-digit transactions

Year Number of deals worth $1bn+
2010 40
2009 32
2008 33
2007 79
2006 74
2005 70

Source: The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase

A bit of Big Blue inconsistency

Contact: Brenon Daly

Perhaps Mark Hurd feels vindicated. No, we’re not referring to the former Hewlett-Packard chief executive settling a lawsuit with his old shop. Instead, we’re talking about IBM’s stunning flip-flop with regard to high-profile M&A by itself and rival HP. At the least, Big Blue’s recent comments now appear inconsistent; at the worst, they smack of hypocrisy.

The specifics: A week ago, Big Blue’s CEO was blasting HP for ‘overpaying’ for deals, and for relying on M&A rather than R&D. Ironically, Sam Palmisano made these comments just as his own company was putting the final touches on its acquisition of Netezza, a deal that values the data-warehousing vendor at nearly 7 times this year’s forecasted sales for the current fiscal year. That’s more than twice the median software valuation, and basically matches the valuation that HP is handing over for ArcSight.

Incidentally, both transactions valued the targets, which had only come public within the past three years, at their highest-ever valuations. But if we look at how the shares of ArcSight and Netezza have performed so far this year, it becomes very clear that IBM was the much more aggressive suitor. Excluding the pop ArcSight shares got when word of a deal leaked in late August, the security vendor’s stock had only ticked up about 10%. In contrast, Netezza stock had run 150% from January to the day before Big Blue announced its purchase.

Is HP overcompensating?

Contact: Brenon Daly

Since when does an army without its top general go on the attack? That strategy would seem to go against convention, yet Hewlett-Packard has done just that since dumping Mark Hurd for his foibles. The tech giant has chased a pair of deals to valuations that are basically 2-3 times the prevailing market multiple. HP’s recent bidding war over 3PAR and the purchase of ArcSight shows a level of aggressiveness that indicates to us that the drivers for the acquisitions may have been emotional as well as financial, at least to a small degree.

If we step back and look at the setting for both deals, we can’t help but conclude that HP announced the transactions at a time when it looked vulnerable. Its star CEO had dramatically crashed back to earth, while its board (yet again) appeared to have bungled what looked like a fairly routine internal investigation. Statements by the company that it was ‘business as usual’ didn’t get much of a hearing on Wall Street. Shares that changed hands in the low $50s in April have been worth less than $40 for much of the past month. HP’s market cap lingers below $100bn, despite the company ringing up sales of about $120bn.

At the risk of drifting too far into psychology, we wonder if the deals weren’t a bit of overcompensation. (Certainly, paying 11x trailing sales for 3PAR might be considered overcompensation, or at the least, ‘heavy compensation,’ if you’ll forgive the pun.) If investors and others were going to view HP as weak or directionless while its corner office was empty, well, HP could use its vast resources to counter with a signal to remind everyone that it was formidable, with or without a fulltime CEO. Of course, we’re just playing armchair psychologist here. But something beyond just straight numbers seemed to be at work in HP’s recent moves.

A second exits gets ArcSight a 2x valuation

Contact: Brenon Daly

Hewlett-Packard’s pending purchase of ArcSight is the third IT security deal so far this year valued at more than $1bn, after not having a single security transaction valued in 10 digits in 2009. While the other two deals have gone off at basically market multiples, ArcSight is being valued at twice that level. The largest ESIM vendor agreed to sell itself to HP for $43.50 per share, valuing the security firm at more than four times the level it went public just two and a half years ago.

HP put the enterprise value of the transaction, which is slated to close by the end of the year, at $1.5bn. That means the tech giant is paying 7.5 times ArcSight’s trailing sales of $200m. (For the current fiscal year, ArcSight is expected to put up about $225m in sales, meaning HP is paying about 6.7x projected sales.) On a trailing basis, both McAfee and VeriSign’s identity and authentication business garnered 3.5x sales in their respective sales to Intel and Symantec. (Morgan Stanley advised both McAfee and ArcSight, while JP Morgan Securities advised VeriSign.)

The high-multiple deal represents a stunningly successful outcome for ArcSight. As we have mentioned in the past, both HP and McAfee approached ArcSight in the summer of 2007, ahead of the company’s IPO. We gather that both were bidders in the range of $600-750m. Unlike other dual-track candidates, ArcSight didn’t opt for the trade sale, but went ahead with its offering even as the equity market turned bearish. ArcSight spent virtually its entire first year as a public company trading in the single digits, including a fair amount of time below its offer price. (At one point when its shares were underwater, CA Technologies lobbed a low-ball bid at the firm, we understand.) If we had to guess at another suitor in the current process around ArcSight, we might tap EMC as an interested party.

Even as its stock took off over the past two years, ArcSight never did a secondary offering. (For a company with about $200m in sales, it has a very narrow base of shares, totaling only about 38 million.) In this case, the unwillingness to sell shares – either a small chunk or all of them – except at an eye-popping valuation has generated a return that seems reminiscent of the late 1990s. ArcSight raised only about $30m to build a business that got valued at 55 times that level on the exit.

A deal in sight for ArchSight?

Contact: Brenon Daly

If nothing else, the long Labor Day weekend gave us all a chance to catch our breath following a week of some of the most frenetic dealmaking we’ve seen in some time. We had bidding wars, doubleheader deals and even a billion-dollar chip transaction. But in some ways, the loudest buzz in the tech M&A market came from a deal that didn’t happen: ArcSight still stands on its own.

The ESIM vendor was supposedly in play, at least according to a thinly sourced and almost woefully vague recent article in The Wall Street Journal. Not to pick apart the piece, but listing a half-dozen of the largest tech companies as ‘potential bidders’ misses a great deal of context. For instance, we noted two and a half years ago that Hewlett-Packard was rumored to have offered about $600m for ArcSight the summer before it went public. ArcSight is now worth twice HP’s rumored bid, and roughly four times the amount the market valued it at when it came onto the Nasdaq in February 2008, just before the IPO window pretty much slammed shut. (For the record, Morgan Stanley led the ArcSight offering.)

That stellar aftermarket performance raises another interesting point about ArcSight: despite the fact that its shares have quadrupled during a time when the Nasdaq has essentially flat-lined, the company has never done a secondary offering. It has just 37 million shares outstanding. That strikes us a narrow base for a firm with $200m in sales and a market valuation of more than $1bn. But maybe the company figures it shouldn’t bother selling shares at current market prices if it stands to get a substantial takeout premium on top of that. For our part, we wouldn’t at all be surprised to see ArcSight get a second exit.

IPOs: nothing to offer

Contact: Brenon Daly

Security vendor ArcSight marked its first full year on the public market with an unexpectedly solid fiscal third-quarter report Thursday. (That said, my colleague Nick Selby reads between the lines and sees some potential problems at the company, which now sports a market capitalization of nearly $350m.) Heading into the release, ArcSight shares traded essentially where they did when they hit the market last February, though an after-market rally pushed the stock above $11 for the first time in seven months.

The fact that ArcSight is now above its offer price is nothing short of astounding, given that both the Nasdaq and the Dow have nearly been cut in half since the debut of the security company. (Rackspace, which was the only other VC-backed tech IPO in 2008, has likewise been cut in half since going public last summer.) It’s telling that we have to limit our discussion about the IPO market to after-market performance, rather than new issues. Not to put too fine a point on it, but we all know that the IPO market is dead right now. (As if to reiterate that, GlassHouse Technologies on Thursday pulled its planned $100m offering, which it filed in January 2008.)

And even when the market opens up once again for debutants (and we think that date is a long time off), it will almost certainly provide even fewer exits for VC-backed companies than in the past. Sandy Miller, a general partner at late-stage venture firm Institutional Venture Partners (IVP), recently noted that roughly one-quarter of IVP’s past exits had come through an IPO. (Included in that number is ArcSight; IVP was its second-largest holder before the IPO.) In the future, however, Miller projected that the percentage of portfolio companies exiting to the public market would drop to ‘single digits.’