Valuations separated by more than the Atlantic

Contact: Brenon Daly

Comparing the valuations of US tech companies with their European counterparts, we can’t help but notice the fact that the recovery hasn’t been enjoyed equally on both sides of the Atlantic. We noted a few months ago that the strong US dollar had opened the way for some opportunistic shopping on the continent. Although most European currencies have inched back up since then, there are still discounts available because the valuations of the companies are still lagging their US peers and rivals.

Earlier this summer, we pointed out that discrepancy in Deltek Systems’ purchase of Maconomy, which valued the Danish ERP vendor at twice the level it started the year – but still below Deltek’s current valuation on the Nasdaq. Similarly, Adobe acquired Day Software at a price that was four times higher than the Swiss company’s own valuation last summer. However, Adobe’s own valuation is higher than the take-out valuation for Day, which included a 60% premium. (Adobe is still valued higher, even though it lost 20% of its value Wednesday after forecasting weaker-than-expected results.)

But those deals pale in comparison to the arbitrage that OpenTable did in its reach across the Atlantic for OpenTable values the British restaurant reservation service at basically 6 times trailing sales, while the San Francisco-based company trades at 19x trailing sales. (For those of you who haven’t looked lately, OpenTable trades in the mid-$60 range, commanding a market cap of some $1.5bn. Incidentally, various measures of OpenTable’s valuation – specifically, both trailing and forward price to earnings ratio – line up almost exactly with those of

OpenTable booking seats at negotiating table in Europe

Contact: Brenon Daly

Often when a company takes its business to a foreign country, something gets lost in translation. EBay found that as it looked to expand its online auctions internationally, and on a smaller scale, OpenTable ran into some of that as well. Roughly two years ago, the San Francisco-based online restaurant reservation service pulled out of both Spain and France. Even now, OpenTable’s international operation contributes only about 6% of total revenue as it burns money.

So, perhaps the thinking in its recent transatlantic move is: If you can’t beat them, buy them. In its first acquisition for geographic expansion, OpenTable said last week that it will pay $55m in cash for, a UK reservation site. (Frankly, we have been expecting a move across the ocean by OpenTable since its IPO.) OpenTable has had its offering in the UK since 2004, but the company has acknowledged that the UK is its most competitive market.

While the acquisition should help bolster its presence there, we should note that OpenTable operates in a very different way than OpenTable looks to replace a restaurant’s existing reservation book, which is typically a pen and some paper, with the company’s proprietary electronic reservation book. On top of that one-time installation fee, OpenTable then charges a monthly subscription fee as well as making money each time a diner sits down at a restaurant table that was booked through the service. In contrast, – along with other services that use the ‘allocation’ model – simply moves some of the available reservations online, with reservations there then recorded in whatever system the restaurant is currently using.

One advantage that has, according to OpenTable, is that its approach is ‘lighter’ in that it doesn’t require an upfront hardware purchase. OpenTable is considering taking and its allocation approach back into continental Europe, where had started to move. If that organic expansion from its inorganic acquisition doesn’t take off, look for OpenTable to buy again. Germany, where OpenTable has had operations since 2007, looks like another market where OpenTable might want to reserve a few seats at the negotiating table.

Is the IPO window open again?

Contact: Brenon Daly

With SolarWinds debuting on the public market Wednesday and OpenTable set to follow shortly, some observers have suggested these offerings mark a return of the IPO market. While it’s always healthy to have new issues, particularly after months and months without a technology IPO, we think it’s a bit overly optimistic to say either offering will kick off an IPO market like we had even two years ago. Certainly, there will be a handful of companies that make it out the window. But we don’t expect there to be a flood of new offerings.

That’s particularly true if we look at the astonishing numbers put up by SolarWinds. We doubt many other IPO hopefuls were able to generate anywhere near the $6m in net income in the first quarter that the network management software vendor recorded. In fact, we’re fairly certain that some companies thinking about putting in an S-1 won’t even generate as much profit in all of 2009 as SolarWinds did in one of the toughest economic quarters in recent history. Wall Street appears ready to reward the black numbers at SolarWinds. The company priced its offering at $12.50 per share, ahead of the initial range. With some 64.2 million shares outstanding, SolarWinds started life on the NYSE with a valuation of $803m, although it moved up above $900m in early trading Wednesday.

Nonetheless, the rich valuation at SolarWinds (8.6x 2008 sales) may well encourage a few companies to dust off their IPO paperwork and update numbers. One obvious candidate: NetQoS, a fellow Austin, Texas-based networking software company. (We noted last year that the company had done a bit of ‘portfolio round-out’ ahead of what we expected would be an IPO this year.) And Nimsoft is undoubtedly cheering for a warm reception for SolarWinds. Nimsoft offers essentially the same technology as SolarWinds but targets the midmarket, while SolarWinds sells primarily to small businesses. (Nimsoft was in the market earlier this week, picking up assets from Cittio to bolster its network monitoring product.) Since Nimsoft has only about half the revenue of SolarWinds, it’s probably a bit early for the vendor to plan a prospectus. Nonetheless, it’s always helpful to have a strong, richly valued comparable public company when considering an IPO.

One less obvious – but more intriguing – vendor that could be drawn out by a well-received SolarWinds offering is Barracuda Networks. Both firms have the same models of high-volume sales of software to small businesses, and both are currently running at over $100m in annual revenue. Barracuda is tight with its financials, but word is that the company is closer to $150m in sales right now. Even if it doesn’t have the same rich margins that SolarWinds enjoys, Barracuda would almost certainly be worth more than $1bn on the market.

Will OpenTable’s IPO lead to M&A?

-Email Thomas Rasmussen

Just three months after filing its initial IPO paperwork, OpenTable set the terms of its $46m offering last week. At the high point of the $12-14 range for its shares, the company would sport a valuation just shy of $300m, or about 6x trailing 12-month (TTM) revenue and 50x TTM EBITDA. For the past three years, OpenTable has grown revenue at a compound annual rate of about 43%. Despite skepticism about the IPO market and OpenTable’s prospects during a period when its primary customers (restaurants) are struggling, the online restaurant reservations service should debut on the Nasdaq under the ticker ‘OPEN’ in the next week or two. OpenTable’s offering comes as Solarwinds is also slated to go public, after its prospectus aged for more than a year.

OpenTable has not disclosed how it will allocate the funds that it will raise in its offering. However, we believe it might be gearing up to make its first foray into M&A. One indication: the presence of Allen & Co as one of OpenTable’s four underwriters. Sure it had a hand in Google’s IPO, but Allen & Co is certainly known more as a media banker than a tech underwriter. OpenTable’s offering is being led by Merrill Lynch, with ThinkEquity and Stifel Nicolaus also on the ticket.

If OpenTable were to shop, we suspect it could well look to bolster its international operations. Since 2004, the San Francisco-based company has sunk millions of dollars into expanding outside the US, but has little to show for it. Its international business, which is burning money, accounts for just 5% of total sales. (The vendor recently pulled out of Germany and France.) We see a parallel between what OpenTable has run into in its unsuccessful international expansion and the early woes that its rich Web services cousin eBay experienced in trying to translate its business outside of its home market. After struggling to address foreign markets by just expanding its existing online auction service, eBay has been picking up local foreign sites that fit the nuances of business and culture in those markets. Ebay has spent billions of dollars lately buying its way into foreign markets.