CDC Software’s rollup is rolling along

Contact: Brenon Daly

Since being spun off from its parent company less than a year ago, CDC Software has been rolling along with its planned rollup. It has done a half-dozen acquisitions of small, on-demand software companies to help expand its portfolio of ERP, CRM and supply chain management offerings. (It got bigger eyes earlier this year, when it made a short-lived run at fellow public company Chordiant Software.) In general, the technology has come from startups that have been passed over by the market. That’s certainly the case in CDC Software’s latest – and largest – acquisition, the purchase of TradeBeam last week.

Ten-year-old TradeBeam had burned through a mountain of venture backing and had snatched up the assets of three other vendors, but had struggled to actually build its business. (We understand that the company generated only about $9m in recurring revenue in 2009, and that projections for this year called for $10m in recurring revenue. That got the target around $20m in its sale to CDC Software, according to our understanding.)

Still, TradeBeam was able to develop some fairly useful software, thanks to its generous VC subsidy, that should fit well inside CDC Software. The company had two main product lines, which each accounted for about half of overall sales. TradeBeam sold global trade management software, which helps customers handle regulatory compliance and other aspects of the import/export business, as well as supply chain visibility, which provides additional capabilities around forecasting and collaboration with suppliers.

CDC Software’s recent acquisitions are part of a larger plan to slowly but steadily transition its business from selling software licenses to ‘renting’ software through a subscription model. Recurring revenue will still be a small slice of the overall $220m or so of revenue that the vendor is expected to put up this year. But if CDC Software can pull off its SaaS rollup strategy – and couple that with even a smidgen of organic growth – it could very well see a bump in its valuation. The transition to SaaS has certainly put a shine on the valuation of Concur Technologies and, to a lesser extent, Ariba. For its part, CDC Software, which is still majority owned by CDC Corp, trades at basically 1 times sales and 4x EBITDA.

Beijing: unsporting laws on M&A

The opening of the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics today has the world’s sporting eyes on China. Of course, global dealmakers had their sights on the large (and growing) Chinese markets long before Beijing landed the Olympics. However, as my colleague Anita Cheung notes, those efforts suffered a setback last week when China passed the latest and strictest set of regulations on foreign investment and M&A in 15 years.

The new regulations give the federal government more control over direct foreign investment and take off the table virtually any acquisition of a Chinese company by a foreign firm. Chinese regulators cite national security and antitrust concerns for these recent actions. This is a distressing development for the idea of a global M&A marketplace. While other countries have certainly used regulation to block ‘sensitive’ acquisitions, few have succeeded with a blanket policy blocking essentially all deals.

In the months before these new regulations took effect, several US media and technology companies were able to ink purchases of Chinese companies. For instance, Hearst Business Media acquired, a technology news website for engineers, last month. Also, CNET acquired Beijing-based in June, while Google picked up Chinese search engine one month before. And deals aren’t just being inked by US companies. In June, one of Australia’s largest telecommunications companies, Telstra, picked up a controlling stake in two large Chinese Internet companies, Norstar Media and Autohome/PCPop.

Rather than those transactions being models for future M&A activity in China, we would expect to see more deals break down because of politics. In other words, more deals like February’s aborted $2.2bn leveraged buyout of 3Com, which was led by Bain Capital, with minority participation by Chinese networking equipment vendor Huawei Technologies. In that proposed transaction, US regulators got all worked up over the possible threats to US national security of having partial Chinese ownership of 3Com’s TippingPoint Technologies business. The fear was that the Chinese might be able to spy on the US by using TippingPoint’s intrusion-prevention system to gain access to networks. As silly as that seems, it was enough to sink the deal. And unfortunately, China seems to have adopted that as policy.

Recent foreign deals in China

Date Acquirer Target
July 2, 2008 Hearst Business Media
June 27, 2008 Telstra Norstar Media; Autohome/PCPop
June 17, 2008 CNET
May 26, 2008 Google

Source: The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase