Mentor Graphics’ ‘marginalized’ size

Contact: Brenon Daly

In knocking down Carl Icahn’s unsolicited bid, Mentor Graphics cited the regulatory difficulties that would likely accompany a combination with either of the two other large vendors of electronic design automation (EDA) software. However, the relative financial performances of the trio show the advantages of consolidation. As is true for most mature businesses, scale matters.

For the most part, the EDA industry has narrowed to three main suppliers: Mentor, Cadence Design Systems and Synopsys. Mentor and Cadence are basically the same size at slightly more than $900m in annual sales, while Synopsys is about half again as large. (It finished fiscal 2010 at $1.38bn in revenue).

Far more important than just top line, however, is the fact that Synopsys has used its size to run more efficiently – far more efficiently – than its smaller rivals, at least when measured by operating margin. (Cadence doesn’t figure into this discussion because it has posted operating losses in each of the past three years.) In Mentor’s recently closed fiscal year, it posted a 6% operating margin – its highest level in three years. That’s all well and good, but we should note that the level is just half the margin that Synopsys currently runs at.

Looking at Lawson

Contact: Brenon Daly

What was shaping up as an explosive showdown between Carl Icahn and Genzyme has been defused ahead of today’s board meeting at the biotech company. By adding two nominees selected by Icahn to the expanded board of directors, Genzyme avoided the full-blown proxy fight that had been brewing. With that matter settled, we wonder if Icahn will turn his attention to his newest tech investment – Lawson Software.

The gadfly investor owns stock and options equaling about 15.6 million Lawson shares, or roughly 9.7% of the old-line ERP vendor. As is often the case in his investments, Icahn says he will push for moves that maximize shareholder value, which could include a sale of the company. However, we would note that in his recent role as shareholder activist, Icahn hasn’t succeeded in putting his holdings in play.

Although he helped spur the sale of BEA Systems in early 2008, his more recent agitation hasn’t necessarily resulted in M&A. Among other holdings, Icahn has owned or currently owns stakes in Yahoo, Motorola and Mentor Graphics – all of which still trade on their own. Likewise, we suspect Lawson will remain independent, even if Icahn pushes for a sale.

For starters, the company isn’t cheap. Shares have tacked on 60% over the past year – twice the return of the Nasdaq and three times the gain of Oracle over the same period. That gives Lawson a market capitalization of $1.3bn. (It holds roughly the same amount of cash and debt, so Lawson’s enterprise value is also about $1.3bn.)

If we assume the company will generate about $350m in maintenance revenue in its current fiscal year, Lawson currently trades at 3.7 times its maintenance revenue. A conservative 30% premium on top of Lawson’s current valuation would add $400m to the price, for a total cost of $1.7bn or nearly 5 times maintenance revenue. That valuation isn’t overly rich, but it is probably at the high end of the range that a financial-minded buyer could make work.