The ball is rolling in semiconductor networking M&A

Contact: Ben Kolada, Thejeswi Venkatesh

In announcing its largest-ever deal, and paying a princely price at the same time, Broadcom is keeping the ball rolling in semiconductor networking M&A. The company’s nearly $4bn pickup of NetLogic Microsystems comes less than two months after rival Intel announced a smaller strategic play of its own, and it likely won’t be the last transaction before the buyout curtain closes.

After a dearth of big-ticket semiconductor networking acquisitions, such vendors are now becoming hot properties. Before announcing its landmark NetLogic purchase, Broadcom itself bought networking provider Teknovus in February 2010 for $123m (in an earnings call, Broadcom mentioned that Teknovus generated revenue in the single digits of millions, which implies a price-to-sales valuation far north of 10x). And in July, Intel announced that it was acquiring Fulcrum Microsystems for a price we hear was in the ballpark of $175m, or about 13x trailing sales.

Broadcom’s richly priced offer for NetLogic, which values the target at 9.2x trailing sales, likely won’t be the last deal in this sector. If you ask The Street, the next companies to get scooped up could be Cavium Networks or EZchip Technologies. Shares of both firms surged following Broadcom’s announcement. As for likely acquirers, we could point to deep-pocketed vendors Qualcomm and Marvell Technology. With $10.7bn and $2.4bn of cash in their coffers, respectively, either company could easily digest Cavium, which currently sports a market cap of roughly $1.7bn.

Intel buys Fulcrum to further datacenter product push

Contact: Thejeswi Venkatesh, Ben Kolada

In a move that further boosts its 10-Gigabit Ethernet push, Intel has announced that it will acquire Fulcrum Microsystems, a fabless semiconductor company that developed the fully integrated FocalPoint family of 10Gb and 40Gb Ethernet switch chips. The acquisition advances Intel’s desire to transform itself into a comprehensive datacenter provider that offers computing, storage and networking building blocks.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed, though we estimate that Fulcrum generated about $13m in revenue in the 12 months before its sale. For a comparable transaction, we could look to Broadcom’s November 2009 acquisition of Dune Networks for about 3 times trailing sales, or twice the median for all semiconductor design deals announced so far this year. However, given Fulcrum’s strategic importance to Intel, we wouldn’t be surprised if its valuation is not only higher than the median, but also surpasses Dune’s. We would also note that Intel already had an insider’s view into Fulcrum – its venture investment arm, Intel Capital, provided mezzanine financing to Fulcrum in 2010.

Connecting thousands of nodes at maximum bandwidth is the holy grail of datacenter networking. Fulcrum’s FocalPoint portfolio provides high-performance, low-latency network switches to support evolving cloud architectures and the growth of converged networks in the enterprise. Intel’s earlier foray on this front was with InfiniBand, which it supported for many years before finally being squeezed out by faster, ultra-low-latency architectures like AMD’s HyperTransport consortium on the one end and on the other end by cheaper but slightly slower 10GigE. Intel has been supportive of 10Gb architecture and this acquisition further enhances that strategy. More importantly, 10GigE makes more sense for Intel if it is looking for a common single interconnect architecture for datacenters, since all applications run on it anyway.