Can Criteo spark interest on Wall Street?

-By Jonas Kristensen

Although Wall Street has not been overly bullish on the prospects of advertising technology companies recently, Criteo may be the next company from this fast-growing market to make its pitch to investors. But to do that, the Paris-based online ad retargeter will have to overcome a lot of burned adtech shareholders, who have seen the shares of recent IPOs in the sector (Marin Software and Millennial Media) both shed about one-quarter of their value so far this year. Meanwhile, Tremor Video is still underwater from its IPO last month.

But Criteo, which is rumored to have gross revenue of more than $500m, has one thing these other companies don’t – a profitable business. And it’s been printing black numbers for several years now. Further, it has shored up its mobile offering, where much of the adtech growth is expected to happen. (Witness the 75% growth in Q2 mobile ad revenue Facebook reported on Wednesday.) Just last week, Criteo announced the acquisition of mobile ad-tracking startup AD-X Tracking, which closes the gap in the company’s product offering and should enable it to take its retargeting technology mobile.

Given its growth rate and product portfolio, Criteo is probably out of reach of most would-be acquirers. Indeed, although M&A activity in the adtech space has increased steadily, the deals haven’t necessarily been at the top end of the market. According to The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase, there hasn’t been an adtech acquisition valued at more than $1bn since 2007.

If indeed Criteo does make it public, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the company will have to take a cut-rate valuation. After all, the other publicly traded adtech vendors have been overly discounted. Even with their sliding share prices, the trio have created more than $1.5bn in market value and trade at an average of 5x trailing sales, a higher multiple than many other tech sectors garner.

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Going mobile

Contact: Ben Kolada

In the past few years, mobile marketing M&A and IPO activity has been dominated by firms that pushed out ad impressions to consumers. The purchases of Quattro Wireless and AdMob more than three years ago were the most notable examples, with the two deals combining to create more than $1bn of M&A value. Turning to the other exit, the IPO last year of Millennial Media briefly created nearly $2bn of market value for that company. With these transactions, mobile ad publishing became an accepted form of mobile marketing.

But mobile advertising isn’t only about pushing ads out to consumers. In fact, this model may not even be the most effective. (That may be underscored by the performance of Millennial Media on the NYSE. Shares have lost about three-quarters of their value since the debut, and are now valued at just $500m.)

At the ad:tech conference, which wrapped up Wednesday in San Francisco, we noticed the emergence of a handful of startups attempting new ways to enable businesses to advertise themselves on smaller, mobile screens.

Rather than pushing out ad impressions, DudaMobile, for example, helps businesses ‘mobilize’ their own websites. Its software requires no coding knowledge. The company apparently has proven itself enough to recently expand its series B financing from $6m to $10.3m. In a similar vein, we’ve heard that bootstrapped Bizness Apps, which provides a template for small businesses to easily build custom-made apps, is experiencing considerable growth.

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For more real-time information on tech M&A, follow us on Twitter @451TechMnA.

Millennial Media doubles on debut

Contact: Ben Kolada

Taking advantage of the emerging market for mobile advertising, platform vendor Millennial Media leapt onto the public stage Thursday, creating nearly $2bn in market value in its debut on the New York Stock Exchange. The company priced its 10.2 million shares at $13 each – the high end of its proposed range. Shares traded at about twice that level in early afternoon. Millennial Media is trading under the symbol MM. Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs and Barclays led the offering, while Allen & Company and Stifel Nicolaus Weisel served as co-managers.

Millennial Media, which has nearly 75 million shares outstanding, currently garners a market cap of $1.9bn. That values the company at 18 times trailing sales, in the ballpark of where we estimate Quattro Wireless was valued in its sale to Apple, but about half the valuation we believe AdMob received from Google. Those two companies are Millennial’s primary rivals, although Millennial stakes its claim as the largest independent mobile ad platform provider.

Interest in advertising technology has been building throughout both the equity and M&A markets. Earlier this month, for instance, telco SingTel announced that it was acquiring Amobee for $321m. (We estimate the startup, which provides mobile ad campaign management software, garnered roughly 9x trailing sales in its purchase by the Singapore telco giant.) Meanwhile, the Adtech pipeline is far from dry, even after a recent slew of big-ticket exits. Earlier this month, advertising intelligence firm Exponential Interactive filed its paperwork to go public. The company, which plans to trade under the symbol EXPN, increased revenue 35% last year to $169m.