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 Shopping.com 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.

eBay places bid

EBay officially acknowledged rumors this week that it is in talks with Interpark to acquire its roughly 37% stake in Korean auction competitor Gmarket. Gmarket shares rallied 15% on the news. Should this transaction go through, we believe eBay would quickly hit the ‘buy it now’ button for Gmarket to establish control of the Korean auction market.

Amid a slowing U.S. auction business, eBay has been relying on its international operations for growth. For its recent second quarter ended June 30, eBay’s international revenue accounted for about 54% of total revenue. International revenue grew close to 30% year over year, while US revenue was up just 12%. Most of the international success, however, stemmed from eBay’s European operations, with German and UK operations accounting for more than half of international revenue.

Interpark announced that it was shopping its shares earlier this year, putting a $1.4bn price tag on Gmarket. This is a 15% premium over Gmarket’s current market cap of $1.23bn, and means eBay would have to shell out slightly more than $500m for the shares. That works out to 5.5x Gmarket’s trailing twelve-month (TTM) revenue of $254.34m and 31.4x TTM EBITDA of $44.56m. That’s a premium compared to eBay’s own valuation of 4x TTM revenue and 24x TTM EBITDA.

By acquiring Gmarket, eBay would get a company that understands the local market. Its failure to adapt to economic and cultural realities burned eBay with its first attempt to crack the Korean market. Former CEO Meg Whitman simply applied a template that had worked in the West and put the operation on cruise control. It seems that new CEO John Donahoe has learned from that mistake. Rather than continue the failed strategy of going it alone, we expect Donahoe to try to succeed in Asia through joint ventures and acquisitions of local competitors. Given the huge potential upside for further international growth by capturing that elusive Asian market share, this deal is likely the first of many.

Significant eBay acquisitions, 2005 – present

Date Target Deal value
January 28, 2008 Fraud Sciences $169m
May 30, 2007 StumbleUpon $75m
January 10, 2007 StubHub $310m
April 24, 2006 Tradera AB $48m
October 10, 2005 Verisign (payment gateway business) $370m
September 12, 2005 Skype $2.57bn
June 1, 2005 Shopping.com $678m

Source: The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase