Contact: Brenon Daly
More than three years after buying a small stake in Ness Technologies from a fellow buyout shop, Citi Venture Capital International (CVCI) has offered some $307m in cash for all of the IT services vendor. The private equity arm of Citigroup initially picked up a 9.6% stake in Ness in early 2008 from Warburg Pincus, which funded the Israeli firm in 1999. Ness put some of that money to work in M&A, acquiring a dozen (mostly small) companies over the past decade.
Ness had been out of the market for the past year, however, as it was put in play by an unsolicited bid. (Jefferies & Company advised Ness on the sales process, along with the company’s longtime adviser Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Merrill was co-underwriter on Ness’ 2004 IPO.) We understand that Ness had attracted a fair amount of interest over two rounds of bidding, including a look from Vector Capital. CVCI’s offer of $7.75 per share represents the highest price for Ness stock since October 2008. (Interestingly, terms include a ‘no shop’ provision and a breakup fee of $8.35m, or a standard 2.7% of deal value.) CVCI expects to close the transaction within a half-year.
With the current credit crisis rocking the big banks, online consumer banking portal Bankrate has sidestepped most of the damage and even plans to do a bit of shopping. In the last month alone, it acquired banking blog Bankaholic and consumer credit resource portal Creditcardguide.com for $12.4m and $34m, respectively. That brought its total shopping tab over the past year to $150m on six acquisitions. (We would note that most of the companies that Bankrate picked up were existing partners.) The company recently told us that it will continue its acquisition spree, and it has the means to do so. Bankrate will have an estimated $35m in cash after its latest acquisitions, and has generated some $25m in cash flow over the past year. So who might the portal bank next?
Bankrate is decidedly a so-called ‘Web 1.0′ company. It lacks the customization and social networking features that many of its newer Web 2.0 competitors tout. This lack of new technology, along with a softening online advertising market, could land the portal in trouble. Bankrate could help shore itself up against those technology shortcomings by focusing its acquisition efforts on personal finance startups like Rudder and Mint.com. However, we don’t think it will do that. Instead, we expect Bankrate to focus strictly on the space that it knows, expanding partly by targeting its legacy competitors.
Given this, we think a likely target might be Creditcards.com, which is both a rival and a partner. Creditcards.com, majority owned by Austin Ventures since 2006, tapped Credit Suisse and Citigroup to bring it public in December, but the economic environment forced it to delay its offering in May. The company is profitable, with $60m in sales, but is laden with debt. Besides having very similar businesses, the two companies are hardly strangers. In fact, current Creditcards.com CEO Elisabeth DeMarse was the CEO of Bankrate prior to becoming Austin Ventures’ CEO-in-residence.
Given Creditcards.com’s likely valuation of several hundred million dollars, however, it is unlikely that Bankrate could afford the acquisition. (Bankrate currently sports a market capitalization of about $700m.) Instead, we suspect that Bankrate will continue to ink tuck-in acquisitions. We wouldn’t be surprised if smaller competitors like Credit.com or Credit-Land.com caught its eye.
Recent Bankrate acquisitions
|September 23, 2008
|September 11, 2008
||LinkSpectrum (dba CreditCardGuide.com)
|February 5, 2008
|February 5, 2008
||Lower Fees (dba Fee Disclosure)
|December 10, 2007
||Nationwide Card Services
|December 10, 2007
Source: The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase