Big is back (sort of)

Contact: Brenon Daly

The number of big-ticket deals in 2010 jumped by one-quarter from the level posted in each of the past two years, an indication that buyers are once again open to a bit more risk. We tallied 40 transactions valued at $1bn or more last year, up from 32 in 2009 and 33 in 2008. One of the reasons for the rise in 2010 – unlike the two previous years – is that the acquirers had to top a pretty bullish tech market to secure their deals. Companies including Isilon Systems, Netezza, ArcSight and 3PAR all got taken off the board last year at their highest-ever valuation.

Also unlike the two previous years, we had a number of ‘serial shoppers’ on the list. Hewlett-Packard inked three 10-digit deals in 2010, while IBM and Intel each closed two of the big transactions as well. And it wasn’t just strategic buyers. The Carlyle Group announced a pair of billion-dollar acquisitions – on back-to-back days, no less. Overall, buyout shops accounted for seven deals last year valued at more than $1bn, up from four in 2008 and five in 2009.

10-digit transactions

Year Number of deals worth $1bn+
2010 40
2009 32
2008 33
2007 79
2006 74
2005 70

Source: The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase

IBM and HP bag big game on M&A safari

Contact: Brenon Daly

With the news today that Hewlett-Packard is closing its recent pickup of Fortify Software, we wanted to take the opportunity to point out that the deal almost belongs in the minority of M&A moves HP has made so far this year. What are we talking about? Basically, that the tech giant has been doing giant deals. Of the seven acquisitions HP has announced so far in 2010, fully three of them have been valued at more than $1bn.

We noted in mid-April, which is before it inked any of its three 10-digit acquisitions, that HP had telegraphed to the market that it was going to do fewer transactions, but they were going to be bigger deals. (And we should add that its purchase of application security vendor Fortify wasn’t just a pocket-change deal. We understand that it paid $275m or so for the company.)

What’s interesting to note is that in the five months since we indicated that HP would be big-game hunting, one other company has joined it on safari: IBM. Big Blue has inked a pair of deals valued at more than $1bn since April – the pickup of AT&T’s Sterling Commerce business as well as Monday’s purchase of Netezza. Along the way, it has also done a steady flow of transactions valued at $150m-500.

Altogether, we calculate the tab for Big Blue’s five-month shopping spree at roughly $4.8bn for its nine acquisitions. (Incidentally, the amount of cash it spent is basically the same amount its business generated over that same period.) Meanwhile, HP spent about $1bn more ($5.8bn in disclosed or estimated deal values) on its seven purchases since mid-April. Taken together, these two companies have averaged about $2bn of M&A spending in each of the past five months. And they were sniping at each other about ‘buying’ R&D? Really?

M&A activity since mid-April 2010

Company Number of acquisitions Total M&A spending
HP 7 $5.8bn*
IBM 9 $4.8bn*

Source: The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase *Includes disclosed and estimated deal values

A bit of Big Blue inconsistency

Contact: Brenon Daly

Perhaps Mark Hurd feels vindicated. No, we’re not referring to the former Hewlett-Packard chief executive settling a lawsuit with his old shop. Instead, we’re talking about IBM’s stunning flip-flop with regard to high-profile M&A by itself and rival HP. At the least, Big Blue’s recent comments now appear inconsistent; at the worst, they smack of hypocrisy.

The specifics: A week ago, Big Blue’s CEO was blasting HP for ‘overpaying’ for deals, and for relying on M&A rather than R&D. Ironically, Sam Palmisano made these comments just as his own company was putting the final touches on its acquisition of Netezza, a deal that values the data-warehousing vendor at nearly 7 times this year’s forecasted sales for the current fiscal year. That’s more than twice the median software valuation, and basically matches the valuation that HP is handing over for ArcSight.

Incidentally, both transactions valued the targets, which had only come public within the past three years, at their highest-ever valuations. But if we look at how the shares of ArcSight and Netezza have performed so far this year, it becomes very clear that IBM was the much more aggressive suitor. Excluding the pop ArcSight shares got when word of a deal leaked in late August, the security vendor’s stock had only ticked up about 10%. In contrast, Netezza stock had run 150% from January to the day before Big Blue announced its purchase.

A Big Blue move into the data warehousing market

Contact: Brenon Daly

A little more than three years after Netezza debuted on the NYSE, the data-warehousing vendor is being erased from the Big Board at basically twice its valuation at the time of its IPO. Under terms, IBM is handing over $27 in cash for each share of Netezza, which went public at $12 in July 2007. However, after the strong debut, which valued the company at around $1bn, gravity set in on Netezza shares. They spent most of 2008 and all of 2009 under the $12 offer price.

Earlier this summer, however, Netezza shares started running. The run was fueled by strong second-quarter results that saw total revenue surge 45%, as well as lingering M&A rumors. (We noted in early July that we had heard EMC was interested in Netezza before it opted for rival data-warehousing vendor Greenplum. IBM’s bid values Netezza at twice the level it was trading at the time.)

As Netezza shares continued climbing to new highs on the market, the move whittled away the premium Big Blue is offering. Compared to the previous day’s close, IBM is paying just a 10% premium for Netezza. But judged against where Netezza was trading a month ago, the premium is 80%. We would add that Netezza shares have traded above the $27 bid since the open Monday morning. UBS advised IBM, while Qatalyst Partners advised Netezza.

Based on the enterprise value of $1.7bn given by IBM, the offer values Netezza at 8.9 times sales in its fiscal year that ended in January. (As a trading comparison, Teradata currently garners a valuation that’s about one-third that level.) At the end of its second quarter, Netezza guided Wall Street to expect about $250m in sales for the current fiscal year, meaning IBM is paying 6.8x projected sales. While that is a relatively rich valuation, it’s much lower than rival EMC paid in its big data-warehousing purchase. We understand that it handed over $400m for Greenplum, which was running at about $30m in sales.

A different outcome of the EMC-Netezza rumors

Contact: Brenon Daly

Although EMC paid top dollar for Greenplum, the startup may not have been EMC’s top choice for its move into data warehousing. At least two sources have indicated that the storage giant talked with fellow Boston-area company Netezza earlier this year. Talks were apparently short-lived, as the two sides never got close on price.

When discussions were going on, Netezza stock was trading at about $10. Our sources report that EMC was kicking around a bid that had a roughly 40% premium – in other words, essentially where shares change hands right now. Netezza, which came public three years ago, has been trading at its highest level since October 2007 lately.

Yet even with the run in Netezza shares (up 45% so far this year), the company isn’t egregiously expensive. It currently sports a market capitalization of $870m, but has about $110m in cash and equivalents, lowering its net cost to $760m. That’s about 3.2 times projected sales this fiscal year and just 2.7x next fiscal year’s estimated sales.

As it is, EMC paid a substantially higher multiple for Greenplum. (Our estimate, based on two sources familiar with the transaction, is that EMC handed over about $400m, or roughly 13x estimated trailing sales, for Greenplum.) Of course, there are different motivations – and, naturally, multiples – attached to either move. Netezza was a much more mature company, with more than twice the number of customers of Greenplum. On the other side, Greenplum had developed some pretty slick technology, particularly for cloud environments, that should fit easily into EMC’s broad sales channel.

What a pair of startup sales tells us about the recession

Contact: Brenon Daly

If there was any doubt that the M&A climate has warmed since the beginning of this year, consider the relative exits for a pair of database-monitoring startups. Back in February, when venture funding was hard to come by and wind-down sales were plentiful, Tizor Systems sold to Netezza for just $3m. Fast-forward nine months, and Guardium sells to IBM for an estimated $230m. Viewed another way, Tizor returned just one-tenth the amount of venture funding it raised, while Guardium returned more than 10 times the funding it raised.

Granted, the relative returns of Guardium and Tizor probably have more to do with the business performance of the two rivals than what was going on in the economy. After all, Tizor was limping along with just $2m in sales, while Guardium was sprinting along at around $40m. (Both companies were founded in 2002.) That said, we’re pretty confident that the fact that the US is no longer (officially) in a recession certainly didn’t hurt the valuation of Guardium, a company we have thought has been in play for some time.

Indeed, as we look down our list of recent IT security deals, we can’t help but notice that the three largest transactions – all of which saw marquee tech companies paying above-market multiples – have come in the past four months. In addition to the sale of Guardium to IBM at an estimated 6x trailing sales, we’ve also seen Cisco Systems pay the same multiple for ScanSafe and McAfee pick up MX Logic for an estimated 4x trailing sales. A few more of these types of deals and we may start to believe that we are indeed out of the recession.