A return to dealmaking for Epicor?

Contact: Ben Kolada

After Apax Partners combined ERP giants Epicor Software and Activant Solutions last year, the new firm has been fairly quiet in the M&A market. Now that the dust has settled on the $2bn combination and declining revenue has been reversed, we wonder if the ‘new’ Epicor might return to the M&A market in fuller force.

Neither Activant nor Epicor had fully recouped the losses they suffered during the recession. But Apax’s Epicor announced fiscal 2012 results today that show revenue is steadily growing. On a trailing basis, Activant and Epicor combined posted revenue of $813m in the 12 months leading up to their pairing. Revenue for the just-closed fiscal year, which ended September 30, rose 5% to $855m.

After having some time to digest the merger, we wonder if the new Epicor may return to dealmaking. In their previous lives, Epicor and Activant were fairly frequent acquirers. The two companies combined had announced a dozen deals in the decade leading up to their merger. Since selling to Apax, the new Epicor has done just three, two of which were sub-$10m tuck-ins.

However, Epicor recently made a move that signals it may return to big-ticket M&A. In October, Epicor closed its $155m acquisition of ERP, SCM and BI software vendor Solarsoft Business Systems, which was doing about $90m in annual revenue.

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Hedge fund goes tender on Epicor

The largest shareholder of Epicor on Wednesday took its unsolicited bid directly to shareholders, just one day after the ERP vendor nixed the offer. Two weeks ago, hedge fund Elliott Associates offered $9.50 for each share of Epicor, giving the proposed transaction a $566m equity value and $814m enterprise value. (Elliott says the all-cash bid is not conditional on financing.) Epicor officially shot down the proposal, asked shareholders to wait for its board to review the proposal. The tender offer is set to expire in a month, but can be extended. Elliott, which began buying the stock in June, owns 10% of the equity, plus a slug of convertible notes. Epicor shares closed Wednesday up 4 cents at $6.84.

Epicor: Thanks, but no thanks

Epicor has shot down an unsolicited offer from a hedge fund, confirming a move that the market had been expecting in the wake of the credit market collapse. The ERP vendor, which is being advised by UBS, told Elliott Associates that it wasn’t interested in the two-week-old bid of $9.50 for each share of Epicor. Although shares initially approached the $9 level on the news, the stock bottomed out at $6 last week. The gigantic spread reflects widespread doubt that Elliott and Epicor would strike a deal. With about 59 million shares outstanding, Elliott’s offer values Epicor’s equity at about $566m. In addition, Epicor holds $132m in cash and $380m in debt, giving the proposed deal an enterprise value of $814m. Elliott owns 12% of Epicor. We noted even before the credit bubble burst that Elliott might have a tough sell with Epicor.

Elliott elbows Epicor

Well, that didn’t take long. Just two days after we noted who won’t be bidding for Epicor, Elliott Associates tossed an offer of $9.50 per share for Epicor. The bid comes just two months after the hedge fund disclosed a large stake and began stirring for a sale of the old-line ERP vendor. With about 59m shares outstanding, Elliott’s offer values Epicor’s equity at about $566m. Additionally, Epicor holds $132m in cash and $380m in debt, giving the proposed deal an enterprise value of $814m. Epicor, which has seen substantial executive turnover this year, has struggled to record growth recently. However, the business has two attractive assets: a healthy maintenance revenue stream and solid cash-flow generation. Epicor shares closed Wednesday at $8.93, their highest level since mid-April.

Who’s not shopping for Epicor

In virtually any other credit market, we’d be tempted to hold out old-line ERP vendor Epicor Software as an exemplary buyout candidate. The company will do about $530m in revenue this year, with $200m of that coming in the easily bankable form of software maintenance fees. (And the company is hardly expensive, with an enterprise value that’s just 3.7x this year’s maintenance revenue.) Moreover, it’ll throw off some $65m in cash flow in 2008 to help cover a hypothetical leveraged buyout.

But as we said, these are not normal days for debt. So in our report last week on an activist hedge fund pushing the company to pursue ‘strategic alternatives,’ we focused on the strategic buyers that might be interested in – and could afford – Epicor. They are, in order of likelihood: Microsoft, Oracle and SAP. Truth be told, though, none of those acquirers seems likely. And while we’re scratching potential suitors for Epicor, we can go ahead and erase M2 Technology Partners.

The buyout firm, which launched in mid-June with backing from Accel-KKR, is headed by Mark Duffell and Michael Piraino, who served as Epicor’s COO and CFO, respectively, until earlier this year. We understand that M2 is exploring other opportunities in the business applications market, and may well have its inaugural investment signed, sealed and delivered by the end of the year. It won’t be Duffell and Piraino’s old shop Epicor, but just think how much time they’d save on due diligence if it were.

Significant ERP deals

Date Acquirer Target Price
December 2000 Microsoft Great Plains Software $1.1bn
May 2002 Microsoft Navision $1.3bn
June 2003 PeopleSoft JD Edwards $1.75bn
December 2004 Oracle PeopleSoft $10.46bn
June 2005 Lawson Intentia International $449m
November 2005 Golden Gate Capital Geac Computer $1bn
January 2008 Unit 4 Agresso Group Coda $314m

Source: The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase