Monitise pays out now for payoff later

Contact: Ben Kolada

Mobile banking and payments vendor Monitise made a big bet on Monday when it moved to consolidate its industry with the acquisition of startup Clairmail. At first glance, the deal should have set off alarms among Monitise’s investors. The all-stock transaction will significantly dilute Monitise’s shareholders, leaving them owning three-quarters of the combined company. However, its investors remained calm – Monitise’s share price closed down only 2%. Why? Although the deal is richly valued and dilutes Monitise’s shareholders, those same investors are all but assured of their own rich payoff eventually.

Another explanation for the muted shareholder response is that the transaction only seems overvalued on the surface. It is actually fairly valued by several metrics. Monitise’s £109m ($173m) offer values Clairmail at 9.3 times trailing sales, a smidgen below its own current 10x enterprise value (Monitise held $68m in net cash at the end of 2011, while Clairmail had $5m). Further, Monitise is also obtaining more valuable customers. Clairmail had 48 banking customers generating a total of $18m in revenue last year, or about $375,000 per customer. Monitise, meanwhile, had more than 250 customers, each of which generated an average of less than $150,000 in annual revenue. And because of Clairmail’s growth rate (its revenue jumped 90% in 2011), its price-to-projected-sales valuation is certain to be much lower. Further placating investors, Monitise is forecasting continued heady growth. The combined company, which would have generated $56m in revenue in 2011 on a pro forma basis, is projecting 2012 total revenue close to $100m.

There’s certainly no reason for alarm among the acquirer’s investors, considering valuations across the mobile payments industry are already high and the potential for Monitise itself to one day find a fruitful takeover offer. In July, eBay announced that it was buying Zong for $240m. And in June, Visa announced that it was buying Fundamo for $110m, or about 11x estimated trailing sales. The latter deal is of particular note, given the growing relationship between Visa and Monitise. Following the Fundamo buy, will Visa make a larger play in mobile payments, perhaps by acquiring Monitise? The two companies are already partners – Visa Europe made a $38m investment in Monitise in October, the two companies equally share a joint venture in India and Visa Europe president and CEO Peter Ayliffe sits on Monitise’s board. And as of February 28, Visa and Visa Europe combined owned 21% of Monitise’s equity.

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Microsoft pays a princely premium for Skype

Contact: Ben Kolada

In its largest-ever deal, Microsoft announced today that it is buying VoIP provider Skype for $8.5 billion in cash. This is the third time Skype has changed hands since 2005. Microsoft claims that the deal is yet another move in its long line of real-time communications initiatives, but we suspect that the true intent, and more so the price, was driven by a desire to keep the hot property out of the hands of search rival Google, which is expanding its own communications prowess.

That Skype attracted Microsoft should come as no surprise, since the company has consistently garnered more than its fair share of attention in its eight-year history. Since its founding in 2003, Skype has been acquired by eBay, sold to a consortium of private equity investors led by Silver Lake Partners, filed for an IPO, rumored to have been a target by Facebook and Google and is now being scooped up by Microsoft. Its three trade sales combined have totaled more than $13bn in deal flow.

Indeed, Facebook and Google’s rumored involvement in the bidding process would certainly have contributed to the stellar valuation. Consider this: on an equity value basis, Microsoft is paying nearly twice as much as Skype received in its previous two trade sales combined. When factoring in the assumption of cash and debt, the offer values Skype at nearly 11 times its 2010 revenue, and 34x last year’s adjusted EBITDA. And while the price paid represents a fraction of the $50bn in cash and short-term investments Microsoft held at the end of March, it should be high enough to prevent a competing offer from Google alone. A topping bid from Big G would most likely exceed $9bn – or one-quarter of the total cash and short-term investments the search giant held at the end of March.

Skype’s suitors

Date announced Acquirer Deal value
May 10, 2011 Microsoft $8.5bn
September 1, 2009 Silver Lake Partners/Index Ventures/Andreessen Horowitz/Canada Pension Plan (CPP) Investment Board $2.03bn
September 12, 2005 eBay $2.57bn

Source: The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase

eBay bids high for GSI

Contact: Ben Kolada

In its largest deal in the past half-decade, eBay is set to acquire e-commerce vendor GSI Commerce for $2.4bn. The company hasn’t made such a move since September 2005, when it forked over $2.6bn for VoIP provider Skype. And while hindsight shows that eBay certainly overpaid for that property, on an equity value basis, this transaction actually carries the highest bid eBay has offered. (We would also note that this pending acquisition is the largest Internet deal since February 2008.)

Although the deal represents a fairly standard price-to-sales valuation, it carries a hefty share price premium that makes the 40-day go-shopping clause more of a formality than anything else. The $29.25-per-share cash offer values GSI at 1.6 times its trailing sales, in line with other public takeovers, but it represents a premium of 51% over GSI’s closing share price on Friday and the highest price its shares have seen since July 2010. That’s more than twice the premiums eBay offered for Gmarket in April 2009 and in June 2005. The valuation is actually slightly higher when considering that eBay isn’t interested in the entire company. As per terms of the deal, which is expected to close in the third quarter, eBay will divest GSI’s licensed sports merchandise business and 70% of its ShopRunner and Rue La La assets to a newly formed company led by GSI founder and CEO Michael Rubin.

Visa plays with virtual goods

Contact: Jarrett Streebin

This week marked another major entrance into the virtual goods market with Visa snapping up PlaySpan for $190m in cash. The deal comes a half-year after Google struck the first significant transaction in the market, paying a reported $55m for Jambool. With the market for social games and virtual goods amounting to real money, it’s likely that these giants won’t be the last buyers here.

We predicted these sorts of deals in our recent virtual goods Sector IQ. In fact, we named PlaySpan as one of the startups likely to get taken off the market. However, we matched it up with eBay’s PayPal. Our reasoning: PlaySpan would have provided an avenue to improved developer relations for PayPal, where it has struggled, as well as massively boosted its market share. Instead, credit card behemoth Visa took out the Santa Clara, California-based startup and it’s likely that PayPal will suffer as a result, particularly in its all-important relations with developers.

Consumers are becoming more and more comfortable not only buying virtual goods, but also buying real goods in games. This should continue to fuel the amazing growth in this emerging market. Both PlaySpan and Jambool are particularly well-positioned to capture this business because the back-end technology and security required for purchasing goods – even if they are make-believe goods – is incredibly complex. Most developers prefer to leave that to outside providers like Jambool and PlaySpan, just like online retailers left the transaction part of their business to PayPal for years. Given that Google and Visa have bought into this market in the past few months, it’s clear that virtual goods are here to stay.

Social gaming grows up

Contact: Jarrett Streebin

Having already seen massive consolidation within the social games development industry, a related area is beginning to be consolidated: virtual goods. A subset of the social gaming industry, virtual goods are one way that developers make money from popular games. Google recently expanded into this market by buying Jambool. Although it’s the first purchase by a major player, there are bound to be more deals.

This isn’t Google’s first play in payments processing. The search giant stayed in-house back in 2006 when it rolled out Google Checkout. The only problem was that it was already years too late to unseat PayPal’s market dominance. Now, Google knows better than to get ‘PayPal-ed’ in the virtual goods market. With Jambool, Google obtains a social payments processor for social media games known as Social Gold. Although a relatively small player within the market, it has one of the most secure back ends in the business, with a Level 1 PCI security rating. This, along with the fact that it has support for a number of international currencies, makes it a very scalable service. Since Slide Inc, the social games developer recently acquired by Google, isn’t large enough on its own to warrant the purchase, it’s likely that Google will continue to expand the Social Gold offerings to meet outside demand. Additionally, Google may have more social gaming offerings coming that could use the product.

The virtual goods industry has been on shaky footing lately. Ever since Facebook announced Facebook Credits, which threatens to make all virtual goods companies obsolete on that platform, many of the companies have been scrambling to diversify away from the social media giant. As of yet, Facebook hasn’t made its Credits mandatory, so there’s still room for other players. But with RockYou, Playdom and Zynga all having signed exclusivity deals, it’s likely that we’ll soon see Facebook Credits used across the board.

One company that has diversified beyond Facebook is PlaySpan, which has a broad range of products that cover many areas of virtual goods monetization. The Santa Clara, California-based startup just received another $18m in funding, on top of approximately $20m. The firm could very well become the PayPal for virtual goods. If it does succeed in that, we wouldn’t at all be surprised to see PlaySpan also get picked up by eBay, which acquired PayPal in 2002. (We’ll have more in an upcoming Sector IQ on virtual goods.)

Amex buys into the alternative online payments revolution

-Contact Thomas Rasmussen

As the first significant deal that adds online payments technology to a legacy payment platform, American Express’ recent $300m acquisition of Revolution Money essentially amounts to a shot across the bow of eBay’s PayPal and Google’s CheckOut. The relatively rich purchase of four-year-old Revolution Money also stands as the third-largest alternative online payments buy to date, trailing only eBay’s pickups of PayPal and Bill Me Later. We estimate that Revolution Money, which had taken some $100m in venture funding, was running at around $10m-$20m in sales.

The alternative payments market is both large and fragmented, and is likely to see substantial consolidation in the coming years. It is also a space that has had difficulties in establishing a coherent offering, with early efforts ranging from ill-conceived ‘sci-fi-esque’ biometrics offerings to SMS-based payment methods. Until recently, it has mostly been marred by failed startups, poorly executed acquisitions and fire sales. Nonetheless, thanks to the continuing success of PayPal and new alternatives (Google Checkout, among others), as well as the boom in online micro-transactions and an uptick in general online shopping, the sector is again gaining favor, particularly as a way to cut transaction costs.

Looking ahead, we believe Amex’s acquisition of Revolution Money will serve as a wakeup call to other legacy payments vendors as well as financial institutions that might now look to do some catch-up shopping of their own. This inevitable consolidation should serve as good news for some of the established startups in the industry such as mPayy, Moneta, eBillme and Secure Vault Payments, among many others. These firms could well find themselves getting some overdue attention in 2010 as alternative online payments continue to gain currency.

PE group dials up Skype

Contact: Brenon Daly

Just a month after we speculated on an unconventional home for Skype Technologies, eBay found a rather unconventional home of its own for its VoIP subsidiary. Rather than go to Cisco, which is what we suggested as an (admittedly) far-flung idea, Skype has landed in a portfolio of a consortium led by tech buyout shop Silver Lake. Terms call for the group (Silver Lake, along with venture firms Index Ventures and Andreessen Horowitz, plus the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board) to hand over $2bn for two-thirds of Skype. EBay, which acquired Skype four years ago, will own the remaining one-third stake.

In most markets, a multibillion-dollar carve-out of a noncore asset led by a private equity (PE) firm would hardly be called ‘unconventional.’ (In fact, one could argue that type of transaction is precisely what PE firms should be doing.) But today’s market – even with the recovery that we’ve had – is hardly a healthy one. The equity markets have rallied, but investors – including the big investment groups that back the PE firms – are still skittish. Add to that, debt is still tough to come by. Those are the main reasons why buyout shops have been largely sitting on their hands recently, making a $2bn deal by a PE consortium a relatively unusual event.

Consider this fact: the Skype carve-out is the largest tech PE deal since May 2008. In fact, it accounts for almost half of all tech spending by buyout shops in 2009. So far this year, we’ve tallied 50 transactions that have an aggregate announced deal value of just $4.6bn. That’s one-third the amount during the same period last year ($13.1bn), and a mere fraction of the total the buyout barons spent during the same period in the boom year of 2007 ($101bn).

Should Cisco dial up eBay’s Skype?

Contact: Thomas Rasmussen

In eBay’s recent report on second-quarter results, the online auction house announced a somewhat disappointing performance in its two core businesses, Payments and Marketplaces, but did see strong results from a surprising source: Skype. The VoIP service increased year-over-year revenue by 25%, while overall sales declined as the legacy Marketplaces revenue sank 14%. Skype revenue hit $170m in the quarter, bringing sales for the division over the past year to $587m. The service is closing in on a half-billion users, finishing June with 481 million users. All in all, that’s a solid performance for a unit largely considered the bastard child of the Silicon Valley auction giant.

However, that certainly isn’t enough to keep Skype inside eBay. The acquisition, which eBay has admitted overpaying for and has written down a huge chunk of the $3.2bn cost, remains largely irrelevant and immaterial to its core e-commerce business. The service has never been integrated into auctions – much less adopted by buyers and sellers – at a level anywhere close to what was planned when eBay picked up Skype four years ago. It stands as the company’s largest-ever purchase and a stark reminder of an ill-conceived deal by the earlier leadership of Meg Whitman. Current CEO John Donahoe has been clear that eBay is returning to its roots, and Skype won’t be a part of that.

So where will Skype go? We see the VoIP vendor on a dual track. It could well get spun off in an IPO. (Provided, of course, that the catastrophe at Vonage hasn’t poisoned the market for VoIP companies.) Or, Skype could look for an acquirer, although we wonder how deep the pool could be for potential buyers that could write a $2bn or so check for it. But we do have one possible interested party: Cisco. Granted, this is a proposal from left field and we’re not suggesting that talks between the companies are going on or anything. However, there is some indication that such a pairing might not be too farfetched. Cisco has increasingly been bulking up its consumer division and its strategy around the media-enabled home is finally starting to come to fruition. Video plays a big part of those plans, and the firm has been talking about expanding its TelePresence offering from the enterprise to the home. An acquisition of Skype with its enormous and growing user base and proven technology on desktops and mobile devices would do just that, and would fit well with its M&A strategy of picking up market adjacencies.

Will OpenTable’s IPO lead to M&A?

-Email Thomas Rasmussen

Just three months after filing its initial IPO paperwork, OpenTable set the terms of its $46m offering last week. At the high point of the $12-14 range for its shares, the company would sport a valuation just shy of $300m, or about 6x trailing 12-month (TTM) revenue and 50x TTM EBITDA. For the past three years, OpenTable has grown revenue at a compound annual rate of about 43%. Despite skepticism about the IPO market and OpenTable’s prospects during a period when its primary customers (restaurants) are struggling, the online restaurant reservations service should debut on the Nasdaq under the ticker ‘OPEN’ in the next week or two. OpenTable’s offering comes as Solarwinds is also slated to go public, after its prospectus aged for more than a year.

OpenTable has not disclosed how it will allocate the funds that it will raise in its offering. However, we believe it might be gearing up to make its first foray into M&A. One indication: the presence of Allen & Co as one of OpenTable’s four underwriters. Sure it had a hand in Google’s IPO, but Allen & Co is certainly known more as a media banker than a tech underwriter. OpenTable’s offering is being led by Merrill Lynch, with ThinkEquity and Stifel Nicolaus also on the ticket.

If OpenTable were to shop, we suspect it could well look to bolster its international operations. Since 2004, the San Francisco-based company has sunk millions of dollars into expanding outside the US, but has little to show for it. Its international business, which is burning money, accounts for just 5% of total sales. (The vendor recently pulled out of Germany and France.) We see a parallel between what OpenTable has run into in its unsuccessful international expansion and the early woes that its rich Web services cousin eBay experienced in trying to translate its business outside of its home market. After struggling to address foreign markets by just expanding its existing online auction service, eBay has been picking up local foreign sites that fit the nuances of business and culture in those markets. Ebay has spent billions of dollars lately buying its way into foreign markets.

EBay unwinds and adds on

Contact: Brenon Daly

For a company that essentially matches buyers and sellers, eBay has been doing a lot of dealing of its own this week. It has picked up a controlling stake in Gmarket, the South Korean online auction house. When we wrote about this possible deal in mid-August, we noted that eBay was willing to pay a not-insignificant premium for Gmarket. Makes sense, given that international sales have been growing more than twice as fast as US sales in recent quarters. (Ebay reports first-quarter earnings next Wednesday.)

The acquisition of a chunk of Gmarket, which is eBay’s first purchase since November, comes as the company also moved to unwind a pair of previous purchases. In the more straightforward of the two, eBay said it will sell StumbleUpon back to the founders of the online bookmarking site. The divestiture comes two years after eBay paid $75m for the property.

We would note that the deal is actually the second sale of an online bookmarking site in the past month. In mid-March, LookSmart divested its Furl property to Diigo, picking up an undisclosed chunk of equity in its privately held rival. While neither transaction performed as the acquirer had hoped, LookSmart did indeed look smarter than eBay because it paid only $1m for its flier on Furl, compared to the $75m that eBay handed over for StumbleUpon.

Rather than go the same route of divesting to former owners, eBay hopes to find a whole new set of buyers for its planned unwinding of Skype. It plans to spin the VoIP vendor to public market investors next year. (We’ll withhold comment on the rather unconventional ‘dual track’ that eBay has now set up for Skype. Just as we’ll withhold comment on the fact that ‘Skype’ rhymes with ‘hype.’)

If it’s lucky, eBay may see the division valued at about half of the $4.1bn that it spent on Skype (including earnouts) back in September 2005. EBay has already acknowledged that it overpaid for Skype, writing down some $1.4bn of the purchase price. While reports have indicated that Skype’s initial founders may be trying to repurchase the company from eBay (a la StumbleUpon), it appears those talks have ended. Still, we could very well see Skype getting snapped up in a trade sale before it hits the public market next year. In a mid-October report, we noted that any of the telcos or even Nokia might be interested in owning the largest VoIP provider.

eBay deal flow

Year Deal volume Deal value
2009 0* $0*
2008 4 $1.5bn
2007 3 $385m
2006 2 $75m
2005 7 $5.1bn

Source: The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase *Excludes purchase of controlling stake of Gmarket