In HP’s earnings call, M&A talk expected to be muted

Contact: Thejeswi Venkatesh

Under the stewardship of its new CEO, Meg Whitman, who took the executive seat almost a year ago, Hewlett-Packard has been cautiously quiet when it comes to M&A. The usually acquisitive firm hasn’t announced a single deal this year, and likely won’t announce a large acquisition anytime soon, since many of its previous plays are widely regarded as blunders.

Following the purchase of Autonomy Corp, the largest software acquisition in seven years, and admitting failure in some of its previous transactions, most expect that HP won’t do another big deal in the near future.

The company is still reeling from some of its prior acquisitions. HP shuttered its Palm Inc business just one year after paying $1.4bn for the company. And HP recently announced that it would take an $8bn goodwill charge on its 2008 acquisition of Electronic Data Systems. Investors expect that write-downs in goodwill may continue because the value of HP’s goodwill ($45bn) exceeds its own market cap ($38bn).

Further reinforcing analysts’ expectations that HP will stay out of M&A is the fact that the company is struggling with its own operations. HP reports its fiscal third quarter after the closing bell today. The company has already indicated that it expects a loss of $4.31-4.49 per share. Over the past six months, HP’s shares have lost one-third of their value, while the Nasdaq has gained 5%.

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The ever-rising costs of HP’s makeover

Contact: Brenon Daly

The bill for Hewlett-Packard’s makeover just keeps climbing. Even beyond the $10bn that has been erased from the market valuation of the company since announcing its unprecedented reorganization, the ailing giant is facing some real cost in the coming days.

For starters, it’s on the hook for $11.7bn to cover its pending purchase of information management vendor Autonomy Corp. That’s no small amount. In fact, it stands as the largest price paid for a software company in seven years. (And it’s one of the richest, valuing Autonomy at almost 12 times trailing sales, while HP itself currently trades at just 0.4x sales.) On top of that, there’s also the $1bn charge that’s looming for the shutdown and restructuring of the ill-fated webOS business.

But both of those costs are likely to be chump change compared to the losses that HP likely faces in getting rid of its Personal Systems Group (PSG) – assuming the company even finds a buyer for its desktop and laptop business. Recall that HP paid roughly $25bn in stock for Compaq, a consolidation move that made HP the largest single vendor of PCs. If it is able to sell that division now, we figure HP would be lucky to get about $5bn for it, or roughly one-fifth the amount it originally paid. (See our full report on HP and the rest of the PC industry.)

In calculating the potential purchase price for PSG – and this is strictly on a back-of-the-envelope basis – we looked back on what IBM got when it divested its PC business back in late 2004. Big Blue’s business was generating about $9bn in sales, and Lenovo paid just $1.75bn in cash and stock, plus the assumption of debt. HP’s PC business is slightly more than four times larger, so applying that loose multiple gets us into the neighborhood of $7bn.

However, a couple of factors will undoubtedly put some pressure on the multiple for HP. First, we would argue that IBM had a much more valuable brand with its ThinkPad line than the HP/Compaq brand. But far more important than those specific concerns around brands is the fact that the broader PC market has eroded significantly in the half-decade since Big Blue divested its business. To get a sense of just how far the PC market has fallen, consider the results from the most recent survey of consumers from our sister company, ChangeWave Research. Earlier this month, just 7% of respondents indicated that they expected to buy a laptop in the coming 90 days, with just 3.5% indicating that they planned to buy a desktop.

A longshot for Leo?

Contact: Brenon Daly

Hewlett-Packard is now, officially, Leo Apotheker’s company. Since his somewhat surprising appointment as HP’s chief executive last fall, Apotheker has been taking small steps while also dropping big hints that he would be recasting the tech giant. But few observers could have imagined the almost unprecedented scope of the transition that Apotheker laid out late Thursday: HP will be integrating the largest acquisition in the software industry in seven years while simultaneously looking into selling off its hardware business.

Wall Street appears to be skeptical that HP can pull that off, as shares in the company on Friday sank to their lowest level since mid-2006. (Incidentally, that’s just before Apotheker’s predecessor, Mark Hurd, took over the company.) On their own, either one of HP’s dramatic moves (working through the top-dollar acquisition of Autonomy Corp and possibly selling the world’s largest PC maker) would be enough to keep any company busy. Taken together, the combination appears doubly difficult. And that’s even more the case for HP, which, to be candid, has a spotty record on M&A.

Consider this: Autonomy will be slotted into HP’s software unit, which has been built primarily via M&A. But that division runs at a paltry 19% operating margin, less than half the rate of many large software companies, including Autonomy itself. And then there’s the $13.9bn HP spent in mid-2008 for EDS in an effort to become a services giant. So far this year, however, that business hasn’t put up any growth. And perhaps most damning is the fact that HP now doesn’t really know what it will do with its hardware business – a unit that largely comes from the multibillion-dollar purchases of Compaq Computer and Palm Inc.

Mr. Fixit sells again

Contact: Brenon Daly

Known as a turnaround guy for most of his career, Joe Cowan didn’t actually have too much fixing up to do at his latest posting as chief executive of content management vendor Interwoven. After he took over Interwoven’s top post in early April 2007, the business hummed along with sales growth in the mid-teens and solid profitability. Under Cowan’s leadership, shares of Interwoven dropped just 9%, less than one-quarter the decline posted by the Nasdaq over that same period. And never mind the southbound performance of shares of rival Vignette.

Cowan’s work at Interwoven stands in sharp contrast to earlier postings at Baan and Manugistics, scandal-tainted companies with declining sales and heavy losses. However, the end result of most of his engagements has been the same: a sale of the company. As a testament to the difference in the relative health of the two most-recent exits that Cowan has helped broker, consider that Interwoven is getting valued at twice the price-to-sales multiple of Manugistics. Viewed another way, Interwoven sold for almost 19x EBITDA, compared to closer to 13x EBITDA for Manugistics. We understand that Cowan will be staying on at acquirer Autonomy Corp after the close of the deal, at least for a bit.

CEO Joe Cowan: A tale of two exits

Date Target Acquirer Deal value Price/TTM sales
April 2006 Manugistics JDA Software $211m 1.4x
January 2009 Interwoven Autonomy $775m 2.8x

Source: The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase

Proofpoint buys Fortiva, expands into email archiving

After a courtship that lasted the better part of a year, on-demand security provider Proofpoint finally picked up software-as-a-service email archiving startup Fortiva this week. Based on similar transactions and industry buzz, we estimate this tuck-in acquisition cost Proofpoint somewhere in the neighborhood of $70m. Fortiva, which has 45 employees, was running at about $15-20m in revenue from about 200 enterprise customers. This marks a solid exit for the company’s venture backers, Cargill Ventures, Ventures West and McLean Watson Capital, which only pumped $8m into Fortiva.

The interesting question sparked by this transaction is what’s next for Proofpoint, which is now up to 250 employees. Though some have suggested the company has now effectively dressed itself up as an acquisition target, we believe otherwise. We think an IPO will represent the next major milestone for the company. (In wrap-up of April’s RSA conference, we said as much, adding that an acquisition by Proofpoint was likely in the next few months.)

Proofpoint has drawn in some $86m in funding since its inception in 2002, including a $28m round in February, even though it was running at close to breakeven. With more than 1,600 customers, bookings are up 70% on a year-over-year basis for 2008. The growth comes despite stiff competition. Google, Cisco and Autonomy Corp made a big push into the market last year with their respective acquisitions of Postini, IronPort Systems and Zantaz.

Yet, Proofpoint has held its own against these larger vendors, even recruiting a few high-ranking employees from Postini, we’ve heard. Speaking of hiring at Proofpoint, we would also highlight last year’s move to bring Paul Auvil on board as CFO. Auvil served as the top numbers guy at VMware, guiding that company from the tens of millions of dollars in revenue to hundreds of millions of dollars. Of course, that company never made it fully public. We have a feeling Auvil may yet have a chance to be CFO at a public company, given the direction of Proofpoint.

Select on-demand security deals

Announced Acquirer Target Deal value Target revenue
July 9, 2007 Google Postini $625m $70m*
July 3, 2007 Autonomy Zantaz $375m Not available
May 14, 2007 Verizon Business Cybertrust $450m* $225m*
April 26, 2007 Websense SurfControl $400m $220m
Jan. 4, 2007 Cisco IronPort $830m $100m*
May 19, 2004 Symantec Brightmail $370m $26m

Source: The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase, * official 451 Group estimates