And the Golden Tombstone goes to …

Contact: Brenon Daly

In addition to getting insight into what corporate development officials plan to buy in the coming year, our annual survey also asked which company they thought made the smartest acquisition during the previous year. (See our full report on the survey.) So which company gets the coveted Golden Tombstone for 2008? Hewlett-Packard, for its $13.9bn purchase of EDS in May.

However, in handing out this peer-voted accolade, we hope that HP doesn’t stumble after stepping up to the dais to accept it, as happened to last year’s winner. (Maybe this is a variation of the ‘Sports Illustrated cover jinx,’ which is a surprisingly accurate predictor of which team is about to hit an inexplicable – and intractable – slump.) Our 2007 Golden Tombstone went to Citrix for its $500m pickup of XenSource.

Although Citrix had promised big things for the virtualization startup, it is coming up short. When the ink had just dried on the acquisition, Citrix talked about $50m (or even higher, privately) of 2008 revenue from the startup, which had no sales to speak of when it sold. Now, it looks like XenDesktop and XenServer will actually contribute about $25m for the year. Granted, the startup XenSource and the 46-year-old EDS are at opposite ends of the corporate lifecycle, and the strategies that drove the deals are completely different. Still, we’re a superstitious bunch, particularly when we’ve already had so much bad luck on the market.

Saving on services at HP

Like so much at Hewlett-Packard these days, CEO Mark Hurd seems to be succeeding where his predecessor, Carly Fiorina, failed. In this case, Hurd is set to buy outsourcing giant EDS in a $13.9bn deal. While Wall Street roughed up HP a bit, there wasn’t anywhere near the outcry that hit Fiorina when she tried to pull off her multibillion-dollar services deal in late 2000. Following the hammering from investors, Fiorina relented and backed away from her plan to pick up the consulting business at PricewaterhouseCoopers after just two months. (Of course, IBM ended up getting a bargain two years later on the PwC unit, paying $3.5bn for it in 2002. That was just one-fifth the amount HP was set to hand over.)

The goal of the moves by Fiorina and Hurd is the same: build up the services arm of the hardware-oriented company. (With 2007 revenue of $22bn, EDS would more than double the size of HP’s services business.) Hurd has already used that strategy in the company’s software portfolio, shelling out $4.5bn for Mercury Interactive to effectively double the size of that division. Of course, we suspect the support Hurd is enjoying for his planned acquisition has more to do with fiscal reasons than strategic ones. Paying less than 1x sales for EDS is a very ‘un-Fiorina’-like valuation. 

Rival moves in services

Acquirer Target Announced Deal value Target TTM sales
IBM PwC (consulting arm) July 30, 2002 $3.5bn (adjusted to $3.9bn) $4.9bn
HP EDS May 13, 2008 $13.9bn $22bn

Evercore’s short cycle

Investment banking, as everyone knows, is a cyclical business. In the case of Evercore Partners, the downswing lasted about a day. On Monday morning, CEO Roger Altman was on a call with disenchanted investors trying to explain why the company booked just half the amount of revenue in the first three months of this year that it did in the same period last year. (Setting aside the utter ridiculousness of projecting quarterly revenue on an advisory business, Evercore’s first-quarter revenue of $45m came in about one-third below the amount Wall Street had projected.) On the report, Evercore shares sank to their lowest level since the boutique bank came public almost two years ago.

By Monday afternoon, however, it was looking like Evercore was set to pocket tens of millions of dollars for the bank’s role in co-advising EDS on its $13.9bn sale to Hewlett-Packard. Depending on how Evercore and Citigroup divvy up the advisory fee, Evercore could end up taking home more money from its EDS mandate than it booked in the first three months of the year. (HP’s purchase is expected to close in the second half of 2008, so the success fees will flow after that.) We guess that’s what Altman, who worked firsthand on the EDS sale, meant when he said the bank’s backlog was ‘fine.’ Evercore shares, however, haven’t recovered and, in fact, are changing hands below where they were on Monday.  

Banking HP-EDS

Company Advisers
HP JPMorgan, Lehman Brothers
EDS Citigroup, Evercore Partners