Take-privates are taking more money

Contact: Brenon Daly

Even though the volume of take-privates has plummeted this year, the deals that are getting announced appear to be far more competitive than they’ve ever been. At least that’s true after the LBO is announced. So far this year, we’ve seen terms get raised in four take-privates, due to either named or unnamed bidders.

The latest: On Tuesday, an unidentified private equity (PE) firm offered $8 for each share of MSC Software, topping the existing agreement for $7.63 per share that buyout shop Symphony Technology Group had with the maker of design software. The new bid added about $18m to the price of MSC. That follows post-announcement raises in the LBOs of I-many and Entrust, which increased the final purchase prices by $19m and $9m, respectively. And then there was the bidding war over SumTotal Systems between Vista Equity Partners and Accel-KKR that saw the final price come in 50% higher than the initial offer.

But in the case of MSC, we probably shouldn’t be surprised that the initial offer got bumped a bit higher. After all, it was only a scant 13% premium over the previous closing price. Shares of the company actually traded at the price proposed by Symphony just a month before the PE shop unveiled its bid. Although to be fair, much of the run had been triggered by speculation that hedge fund Elliott Associates, the vendor’s largest shareholder, was pushing for a sale of MSC. (Under the plan put forward by Symphony, Elliott would have rolled over its equity.) For the record, the proxy filed in connection with Symphony’s bid indicates that Elliott actually first broached the idea of a sale to MSC in February 2008, a time when shares were changing hands above $12 each.

What’s the value of advice on the Entrust LBO?

Contact: Brenon Daly

The ‘go-shop’ period at Entrust came and went a month ago, but on Friday the security vendor nonetheless got a richer offer in its three-month-old leveraged buyout. The bidder? Thoma Bravo, the same buyout shop that has had an agreement in place since April to acquire Entrust. Originally, Thoma Bravo offered $114m, or $1.85 per Entrust share, but as the company’s shareholders were set last Friday to vote on it, Thoma Bravo bumped up its bid to $124m, or $2 for each Entrust share. The buyout shop says that is its best and final offer for Entrust.

Thoma Bravo topped itself despite having Entrust’s board unanimously back the initial $1.85-per-share bid. The raise also came despite both of the main proxy advising outfits backing the original offer, which valued Entrust at less than 1x sales, on the basis of enterprise value. If shareholders had actually listened to both Glass, Lewis & Co and Proxy Governance Inc, they would have shortchanged themselves $10m. (And shareholders have already suffered enough by holding Entrust, which has basically traded down over the past four years, with only brief interruptions.)

Undoubtedly, the proxy firms will (once again) throw their support behind the new and improved buyout bid ahead of the shareholder vote, which is slated for July 28. But any endorsement sort of strains credibility given that they already backed one deal that the would-be buyer has acknowledged was too cheap.

Quick to offer, slow to vote

Contact: Brenon Daly

Even with the recent flurry of deal announcements, the pace of actually getting those proposed transactions in front of shareholders hasn’t necessarily followed suit. On Monday, a pair of buyers of public companies said they wouldn’t be holding votes on the proposed acquisitions, which were both announced in mid-April, until mid-July. To be sure, the anticipated three-month gap between announcing the transactions and shareholders voting on them isn’t alarmingly long. But it does continue the rather drawn-out dealmaking process that we’ve seen since the credit crisis tore apart Wall Street.

In the larger of the two announcements, Oracle said Sun Microsystems shareholders will have the opportunity to sound off on the planned $7.4bn deal on July 16. That is almost two weeks longer than it took to close its slightly larger purchase of BEA Systems last year. And if, as expected, Sun shareholders agree to the pending acquisition and Oracle closes it immediately, the time from announcement to closing would be roughly twice as long as the time for its multibillion-dollar purchase of Hyperion Solutions as well as its smaller acquisition of Stellent.

Meanwhile, Thoma Bravo, which plans to pick up Entrust, originally intended to put its $114m offer before shareholders on Monday. Instead, they will vote on the deal July 10. The delay comes despite not a single superior bid surfacing for the security company during its ‘go-shop’ period. The target said it shopped itself to 35 other potential suitors from mid-April to mid-May, but received only three non-binding offers. Entrust’s board didn’t judge any of them ‘superior’ to Thoma Bravo’s original offer. Shareholders will have their say on that in a month.

Empire Capital: rain-making in security M&A

Contact: Brenon Daly

For the second time in less than a year, a micro-cap security company in which hedge fund Empire Capital holds a big position is being taken off the board. On Monday, Entrust said it agreed to a $114m offer from buyout firm Thoma Bravo. Terms call for the acquirer to pay $1.85 for each of the 61.3 million Entrust shares outstanding. The roughly 22% premium essentially values Entrust where it was last October. (The deal also carries a ‘go-shop’ provision.)

Empire, which has a seat on Entrust’s board, holds about 11.8 million shares of the company, or 19% of the total. (That means the hedge fund’s payday for its stake will be just $22m.) Although the board has signed off on it, the terms of the buyout aren’t exactly staggeringly rich: Entrust has $24m in cash and no debt, lowering the company’s enterprise value to just $90m. Entrust did about $100m in sales in 2008 and was expected to record only a slight dip in revenue this year, according to Wall Street projections.

The valuation of less than 1x trailing revenue for Entrust is just half the level of Tumbleweed Communications, the previous security company that Empire was involved with. In a trade sale last June, Tumbleweed got picked up by French rival Sopra. The deal valued Tumbleweed at nearly 2x trailing sales. Of course, it was a different time back then. For its part, Entrust was trading at about $3 on the day Sopra announced the Tumbleweed acquisition.