Comings and goings on US exchanges

Contact: Brenon Daly

The flurry of M&A announcements on Wednesday not only boosted trans-Atlantic shopping totals so far this year by nearly 20%, it also continued the trend of thinning the ranks of US public companies. The pair of Nasdaq-listed firms that got erased on Wednesday (Borland and Vignette) brings the number of acquisition announcements of US public tech companies to some 22 so far this year.

To be clear, that sum is made up of deal announcements, not closed transactions. So it includes offers that have been rejected by the would-be target (Emulex) as well as bids where the terms are still in play (SumTotal Systems). Against that, we have had only a minimal ‘repopulation’ of the US exchanges. Just three tech companies – none of which is a true IT vendor – have gone public this year. That’s about to change with SolarWinds, which is expected to hit the market in a week or two. (And on the consumer Internet side, OpenTable set the terms of its planned IPO on Thursday.)

We would also note that Wednesday’s ‘twofer’ of Borland and Vignette is actually the third time in the past month that two deals for US public companies have been announced in a single day. The other days: April 20, with Oracle-Sun Microsystems and Trilogy-Autobytel, and April 13, with Thoma Bravo’s bid for Entrust and Image Holdings’ reach for InFocus. In terms of banking, JP Morgan Securities did the double Wednesday, advising both Borland and Vignette on their sales to Micro Focus and Open Text, respectively. But the bank is doing its part to add back public companies, leading the SolarWinds offering.

Buyers’ strike

Contact: Brenon Daly

When the Nasdaq was on an uninterrupted slide from early February to early March, market pundits talked about a ‘buyers’ strike’ by investors. (The month-long decline, which erased some 20% from the index, sank the Nasdaq close to levels not seen since the tech industry was emerging from the wreck in 2002. It has since rebounded above month-ago levels.) Apparently, that buyers’ strike also carried over to the companies’ M&A plans during the first three months of the year.

Publicly traded tech companies inked just 119 deals, which is half the level as the same quarter in 2008. The decline in spending is even more pronounced: In the first quarter, US public companies announced a grand total of just $3.2bn, which is one-tenth the level ($39.4bn) during the same period last year. We would note that even typically busy tech buyers such as Symantec, Citrix, Google and Hewlett-Packard all sat out the first quarter. And many of the big tech shoppers that did announce transactions just picked up assets from startups. Among the buyers of wind-downs were Netezza, SAP, EMC and Quest Software.

Combine the reluctance of corporate buyers with the disappearance of financial acquirers, and it’s no wonder tech M&A plunged to a record low in the quarter. As we recently noted, spending on deals plunged 85% quarter over quarter to just $8bn. Look for our full report on first-quarter tech M&A in tonight’s sendout.

IPO window opens a crack

Contact: Brenon Daly

It’s been exactly a year since SolarWinds put in its paperwork to go public. In that time, capitalism has been beaten and bloodied. To underscore that, consider that the late-great Lehman Brothers was one of the original underwriters of the proposed offering. Obviously, that bank has been erased – both on prospectus and elsewhere. Morgan Stanley now serves as the other major bulge-bracket underwriter on SolarWinds’ ticket.

As we noted earlier this month, the tech IPO market has had nothing to offer since the debut of Rackspace in the middle of last year. Last week, Omneon Video Networks pulled its planned IPO, two years after initially filing the paperwork. That withdraw came less than two weeks after GlassHouse Technologies also scrapped its planned debut.

But a funny thing happened after we declared the IPO market dead: We began to see some signs of life. Chinese online game developer is set to hit the Nasdaq next week. We would guess that planned debut has much to do with the rebound in the Nasdaq, where intends to trade. Since finishing a month-long slide on March 9, the Nasdaq has gained some 17%. The index has risen from below 1,300 (close to where it bottomed out in October 2002, after the tech wreck) to above 1,500 during Monday’s Treasury-inspired rally.

We wonder if SolarWinds, which has already amended its original prospectus six times, won’t also look to take advantage of this slim opening of the IPO window to go public. Of course, we’ve always thought that SolarWinds could go public in just about any market, given the fact that it mints money. Last year, the company continued to run at an EBITDA margin of more than 50%, even as revenue hit $93m, up from just $38m in 2006 and $59m in 2007.

‘Little brothers’ eyes get big

Contact: Brenon Daly

As virtually all investors are acutely aware, public companies get their valuations reset every trading day. And with the Nasdaq having been cut in half since the highs on the index in November 2007, those valuations are universally being reset lower. That has created a somewhat counterintuitive situation where public companies sometimes trade at a substantial discount to their privately held counterparts, despite typically being larger and certainly more liquid and transparent investments.

That pricing discrepancy has spurred some of the ‘little brothers’ to make runs at their publicly traded brethren. Last year, we saw HireRight taken private after a year on the Nasdaq by privately held US Investigations Services for $195m, or about twice the sales of the human capital management (HCM) vendor. On a larger scale, Sophos reached for German endpoint encryption vendor Utimaco in a private-public transaction last summer.

What other private company might be viewing the Nasdaq as a shopping list? We’ve heard that software-as-a-service (SaaS) roll-up nGenera recently ‘broadened its horizons’ to also include public companies. The vendor, which we understand did roughly $50m in sales in 2008, has raised some $50m from investors including Hummer Winblad Venture Partners, Foundation Capital and Oak Investment Partners. It has already inked six acquisitions.

Our understanding is that nGenera is looking to add HCM or even sales compensation management technology, which it sells as part of a larger on-demand offering. In addition to being attracted to the discount valuations of public companies, nGenera is also eyeing Nasdaq-listed targets because they are typically more mature than startups and would have more customers to add to nGenera’s existing roster of some 300 enterprise clients.

nGenera’s acquisition history

Announced Target Deal value Target description
May 21, 2008 Talisma Not disclosed SaaS customer service automation
March 5, 2008 Iconixx Not disclosed On-demand talent management HR software
November 29, 2007 New Paradigm Group Not disclosed Research company
October 3, 2007 Industrial Science Not disclosed Business simulation software
September 13, 2007 Kalivo Not disclosed On-demand collaboration provider
May 7, 2007 The Concours Group Not disclosed Research and executive education firm

Source: The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase

Market imbalance

The markets are shrinking. And we’re not just referring to the trillions of dollars of value that have been lost from the New York Stock Exchange and the Nasdaq over the past year. Instead, we’re talking about the actual number of companies on the markets.

Listings rise and fall over the years, as companies go public or get acquired. At least, they do in normal years. But in a year like 2008, with black swans flying across the sky, the number of listings just falls (rather like the prices of the stocks that remain on the exchanges). Already this year, we’ve seen some 62 US publicly traded companies get acquired. On the other side of the ledger, we’ve had fewer than 10 technology IPOs since January. (And don’t look for Metastorm, which filed to go public in mid-May, to debut on the Nasdaq anytime soon. The company pulled its planned offering on Thursday.)

In terms of M&A dollars, as you might guess given the state of the markets, the companies that trade on them have been sharply marked down, as well. While the number of deals has dropped 27%, the value of those deals has plummeted twice that amount (56%). In addition, spending on public company deals has declined even more than the overall tech M&A market, which has sunk about 40% in terms of dollars spent so far this year.

Acquisitions of US public companies

Period Deal volume Deal value
January 1-November 14, 2007 85 $250bn
January 1-November 14, 2008 62 $109bn

Source: The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase

Less of the same for October M&A

With October standing as the worst month for the Dow Jones Industrial Average in more than a decade, we thought we’d see what the market’s rout did to M&A totals. Essentially, October continued the sluggishness that we’ve already seen in the first three quarters of 2008, with M&A falling about one-third from October 2007. (See our full report on Q1-Q3 activity.) And while the drop in dealmaking seems sharp, it pales in comparison to the losses on Wall Street, at least on a relative basis. Consider this: the October declines of the Dow and the Nasdaq (14% and 18%, respectively) account for exactly half of the total losses for both indexes in 2008. Ouch.

Also similar to the first three quarters of the year, big buyers sat out October. Only three transactions valued at more than $1bn were announced last month. (And, we’d be quick to add, one of them – the $2.3bn unsolicited bid for Atmel – has been rejected and, if history is any guide, probably won’t go through.)

Even with the continued bearishness in the M&A markets, the activity in October does offer a glimmer of hope for the return of a vibrant deal economy. At least things didn’t get worse. And if things continue to not get worse, it’s not too much of a stretch to see them starting to get better.

October deal flow

Month Deal volume Deal value Deals worth $1bn+
October 2006 330 $37bn 8 (Google-YouTube, Open Solutions LBO)
October 2007 309 $32bn 5 (Nokia-Navteq; SAP-Business Objects)
October 2008 238 $23bn 3 (CenturyTel-Embarq, unsolicited bid for Atmel)

Source: The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase

Bear market mauls debutants

The talking heads at the Nasdaq and the New York Stock Exchange generally define a bear market as a 20% decline from the index’s highs. And, as anyone who picked up a weekend newspaper knows, the markets have officially slumped into bear territory since peaking last fall.

Of course, an index is made up of individual stocks, with some getting more roughed up than others. Oracle has basically traded flat since the Nasdaq meltdown began last October; Microsoft has matched the index’s decline; and VMware has been hammered, plunging nearly three times the Nasdaq decline over the same period. (Another way to look at the meltdown in shares of VMware: At its peak, VMware stock was worth roughly the same amount as a barrel of oil at current prices. Now, you’d have to pony up nearly three shares of VMware to trade for that same barrel of oil.)

With investors not willing to take a chance on shares of existing companies, what chance do the shares of largely unknown and entirely untested IPO candidates have? The short answer is ‘zilch.’ Actually, it’s somewhat of an academic question as there hasn’t been a VC-backed IPO since ArcSight floated on the Nasdaq four months ago. (As we’ve written in the past, we wouldn’t be surprised to see ArcSight get gobbled up, with Hewlett-Packard a logical buyer, in our view.)

With the IPO window closed, corporate acquirers have even more leverage in negotiations. (In other words, don’t expect transactions going off at a double-digit price-to-sales multiple, like IPO candidate EqualLogic got from Dell last November.) We’ve already seen Initiate Systems scrap its proposed offering and go hat-in-hand to a gaggle of investors. Meanwhile, a handful of other S-1s from other companies are gathering dust at the SEC. And we hardly expect any movement during the third quarter. Given the parched IPO market and corporate acquirers in the doldrums, it’s going to be a long, hot summer for a few of these IPO candidates.