Ambulance chasing in tech M&A

Contact:  Brenon Daly

Here’s another sign that tech M&A is getting more active: plaintiffs lawyers have come slithering back into the process. Instead of chasing ambulances, these lawsuit-loving lawyers are now following deal flow. Their tactic: before the ink is even dry on an M&A announcement, threaten an investigation into possible fiduciary breeches by the board at the selling company. To most, the pesky threats are little more than extortion.

In recent weeks, plaintiffs lawyers have taken aim at Chordiant Software for agreeing to sell itself for $161.5m to Pegasystems. (Never mind that Chordiant shareholders are getting 50% more than another suitor offered for the faded CRM vendor just two months ago. And they’re getting it all in cash.) But even more absurd is the decision by a handful of law firms to target Techwell’s decision to sell itself to Intersil in a transaction that gives Techwell a $450m equity value, or an enterprise value of $370m.

Intersil’s bid (on an enterprise value basis) works out to a rather rich valuation of 5.9 times Techwell’s 2009 sales and 4.2x projected 2010 sales, according to Intersil. (We would note that’s roughly twice the valuation that the market currently gives Intersil.) Terms call for Intersil to hand over $18.50 in cash for each Techwell share, a price that represents a relatively rich 50% premium over the previous day’s closing price.

Moreover, Intersil’s bid roughly matches the highest point Techwell shares ever hit on their own, which came back in November 2006. The offer is twice the price at which Techwell went public in mid-2006 and roughly three times the level where shares were changing hands just a year ago. Yet that outperformance hasn’t stopped at least five different law firms from charging that Techwell may not have done right by its shareholders.