Taking care of unfinished business, Oracle snares InQuira

Contact: Ben Kolada

Oracle scratched a lingering itch recently, as it announced that it is acquiring knowledge management and customer service automation vendor InQuira for an undisclosed amount. The announcement comes nearly three years to the day after Oracle was stinted by salesforce.com in its attempt to scoop up InQuira rival InStranet. And although terms of the deal weren’t disclosed, we suspect that the database giant paid up for its expansion in this sector.

As usual, Oracle hasn’t disclosed terms of the transaction. Nearly all precedent deals in this sector have fallen in the range of $30-50m. However, InQuira could have broken this benchmark since the company was growing and was more mature than its acquired rivals. InQuira has expanded from about 135 employees serving 50 customers when we last covered the firm in 2008 to more than 85 customers today, with a headcount surpassing 200. Assuming its average deal size has remained somewhat constant, we would roughly place the company’s trailing revenue in the ballpark of $55-65m. Based on precedent valuations (comparable transactions have been valued at 1.3-1.8 times trailing sales) and our loose estimates of the company’s revenue, Oracle could have paid about $100m for InQuira. In comparison, salesforce.com forked over just $32m for InStranet in 2008.

Privately held InQuira offers integrated applications for Web self-service, knowledge management and agent-assisted support by bringing together intelligent retrieval, content management, collaboration and analytics. The acquisition, which is expect to close in the fall, will become the core of Oracle’s Fusion CRM product line.

All quiet on the Eastern front

Contact: Ben Kolada

In contrast to the surge in deal flow that we’ve seen so far this year, IT giant IBM has been extremely muted. So far this year the Armonk, New York-based company has announced only one deal – the pickup of real estate and facilities management vendor Tririga in March for an undisclosed amount. In comparison, last year Big Blue announced 15 transactions worth more than $5bn. But that’s not to say that the company hasn’t been looking for new properties, and likely would have inked a couple of extra deals had it not been for Oracle’s meddling. In fact, Oracle’s most recent move could motivate IBM to announce a transaction of its own soon.

We’ve written in the past that IBM may have looked at Datanomic, which Oracle quietly picked up April. We considered Datanomic a nice complement to the business Big Blue got when it bought Initiate Systems in early 2010. (Initiate had an OEM arrangement with Datanomic.) More recently, though, the company was once again thwarted by Oracle in the Web content management (WCM) sector. Oracle announced yesterday that it is acquiring WCM vendor FatWire Software, and we see IBM as the potential loser here. Big Blue could use a stronger WCM component, as it is also positioning for Web experience management, and we hypothesized recently that FatWire could possibly fill this gap. However, there are a few alternatives left for IBM. For instance, the company could make a play for CoreMedia, which is the only other WCM independent with a Java-based offering that competes at the high end.

An extended cold snap in the M&A market

Contact: Brenon Daly

The tech M&A spending slump continued into February. For the sixth straight month, the aggregate value of deals came in at only about $10bn. (Specifically, we tallied 256 deals in February, worth just $9.7bn – the lowest monthly spending total in a year.) The rather anemic recent spending comes after a flurry of dealmaking last summer had many observers speculating about a return to a more robust M&A environment.

Instead, recent monthly spending has flat-lined at just half the level it was last summer. Another way to look at the activity: The total value of deals so far this year (January and February combined for $20.6bn in spending) is only equal to the single-month totals from April to August last year.

One reason why 2011 has gotten off to such a slow start is that many big-name tech buyers haven’t been in the market. Among the companies that have yet to open their M&A account this year: Microsoft, Symantec, Oracle, IBM, EMC, BMC and others.

Talk is cheap, but BMC isn’t

Contact: Brenon Daly

All the talk around an acquisition of BMC may be just that – talk. We have a hard time believing some of the rumored buyers for the IT management vendor. That skepticism was shared by a few bankers who we spoke with about the rumor. In fact, they reminded us that the most recent M&A buzz around BMC had the company as a buyer, not a seller. Several sources have indicated that BMC was an early bidder for security provider ArcSight, but dropped out quickly when the price got a bit rich.

Nonetheless, M&A speculation pushed BMC shares Thursday to their highest level in a decade. Currently, the company garners a market cap of $7.6bn. Fittingly for a 30-year-old firm, BMC sits on a pile of cash. It has some $1.4bn in its treasury, although a bit of debt lowers its net cash position to about $1.1bn. The company recently indicated that it would generate in the neighborhood of $700m in cash from operations in the current fiscal year, which ends in March. Sales for the fiscal year are expected to come in at $2bn.

With an enterprise value of roughly $6.2bn, BMC currently trades at more than 3 times projected sales and almost 9x projected cash flow. Even without a take-out premium, those are fairly rich multiples for a company that grows just 2% per year. A premium could take BMC’s equity value to around $10bn.

Obviously, there are only a few companies that could write that a check that big and if we were to short-list them we would probably put Oracle and Cisco Systems on there – but for different reasons. The $1bn of maintenance revenue that flows steadily to BMC each year would undoubtedly catch Oracle’s eye. But buying $1bn of annual maintenance revenue for, say, $8bn (on a net cost basis) doesn’t look like the kind of bargain Oracle typically strikes.

And while Cisco has partnered with BMC for the management within its Unified Computing System, it’s not clear to us that Cisco actually needs to own BMC to further its interest in outfitting datacenters. To our mind, Cisco should just put the money it would spend on BMC toward the company that it should really buy: EMC.

What’s up with the Bay Area?

Contact: Ben Kolada

Bay Area buyers have roared back to life in 2010. Compared to the same period a year ago, Bay Area buyers’ deal volume has increased 46%, while at the national level M&A has risen only 21%. Year-to-date, Bay Area-based acquirers announced 230 transactions, 19% of all technology deals undertaken by US-based companies. Further, these companies represent 19% of the total declared deal amount, including four of the 18 billion dollar-plus transactions made by US-based buyers. In the same period last year, Bay Area acquirers did only 162 deals.

So, what’s up with the Bay Area? Our data suggests that 15 big serial acquirers accounted for most of the increase. In fact, the number of Bay Area buyers acquiring three or more companies increased five-fold in 2010, compared to a 50% increase at the national level. After waiting on the sidelines in 2009, these companies have resumed M&A activity in full force. As a group, they bought 52 more companies in year-to-date 2010 than they bought in 2009. (An interesting note, Internet content providers were the preferred targets across the board, representing 22% of acquired companies at both the Bay Area and national levels.)

M&A activity by Bay Area buyers

Acquirer 2010 deal volume, year-to-date 2009 year-ago period
Google 15 0
Oracle 7 5
Playdom 6 0
Apple 4 0
Facebook 4 0
Symantec 4 1
Synopsys 4 1
Trimble Navigation 4 5
Cisco Systems 3 3
Hewlett-Packard 3 2
TIBCO Software 3 0
Twitter 3 0
VMware [EMC] 3 0
Yahoo 3 0
Zynga 3 0
Totals 69 17

Source: The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase, 451 Group research

Google is the poster child for Bay Area M&A. Year-to-date, the company has been involved in 15 transactions – the most since it inked the same amount of deals in full-year 2007. However, the search giant is noticeably absent from the 2009 ranking. Even though Mountain View, California-based Google had $8.6bn in cash at the end of 2008, the vendor took nearly a year-long break from M&A activity. Google’s M&A drought began after it acquired TNC in September 2008 and ended 11 months later, when it announced its first purchase of a public company – On2 Technologies – in August 2009.

Preemptive consolidation in financial IT?

-Contact Thomas Rasmussen

With reports indicating that IBM has pulled its multibillion-dollar offer for Sun Microsystems, the second-largest deal of the year so far is the $2.9bn all-equity purchase of Metavante by Fidelity National Information Services (FIS) announced in early April. (Yesterday, Express Scripts announced that it will fork over $4.7bn for WellPoint’s NextRx subsidiaries.) In fact, we recently noted that the first quarter closed without a single transaction worth more than $1bn. It was the first time a quarter passed without a 10-digit deal since we began keeping records in January 2002. This transaction consolidates two active acquirers. Metavante and FIS have together inked more than 30 purchases over the past five years: FIS has completed 18 deals worth north of $7bn (excluding this pickup), while Metavante has closed 15 to the tune of about $1.4bn.

The combined FIS and Metavante will have revenue of $5.1bn, about $300m in cash after the transaction closes, and free cash flow of about $700m. However, though the management of the new company outlined its healthy cash flow as means for making further acquisitions, we don’t expect them to step immediately back into the market as the giants work on integrating the blockbuster deal. (We would note that both FIS and Metavante were out of the market in 2008.) Instead, we expect near-term consolidation to likely come from the firm’s two remaining large competitors Fiserv and First Data Corp, which Kohlberg Kravis Roberts took private for $30bn two years ago. Additionally, we could see Oracle and IBM using their vast cash reserves to buy their way into this sector. In fact, FIS and Metavante said in their conference call discussing their planned transaction that one of the reasons they were getting together was to stave off the expected competition from Oracle and Big Blue. So who might be of interest to any of these buyers? We suspect smaller players such as Jack Henry & Associates or even payments competitors TeleCommunication Systems and S1 Corp could well become targets.

Financial IT M&A by the now three largest buyers since 2002

Acquirer Number of deals Total deal value
FIS-Metavante 42 $12.7bn
First Data Corp 20 $9bn
Fiserv 28 $5.3bn

Source: The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase

Startup scrap sales

With new funding difficult to come by, many cash-burning startups are finding that they have no choice but to take a scrap sale. Those desperate deals cut M&A spending on VC-backed startups in the second half of 2008 by nearly three-quarters over the same period in 2007. From July to December last year, 100 venture-backed startups got acquired, for a total bill of just $3bn. That compares to 153 startups sold for a total of $11.1bn during the same period in 2007.

And we’ve seen more of these types of deals so far this year. Oracle, SAP, Barracuda Networks and Quest Software, among other large technology buyers, have all purchased companies for less than the money raised by the startups, according to our estimates. Consider the specific case of Mirage Networks. The network access control (NAC) vendor raised some $40m before discovering that NAC wasn’t really a market after all. (The eight-year-old company generated an estimated $5m in sales last year.) Trustwave picked up Mirage for some $10m, we estimate. Meanwhile, Mazu Networks will have to hit all of its earn-outs to make its investors whole again. About a month ago, Riverbed Technology said that it would pay $25m upfront for the network security vendor, with a possible $22m earn-out. That’s actually not a bad outcome for unprofitable Mazu, which we understand was burning about $1m each quarter. And yesterday, Netezza picked up the assets of data-auditing and protection vendor Tizor Systems for $3.1m; Tizor had raised $26m from investors.

VC-backed tech startups M&A

Month 2007 deal volume 2007 deal value 2008 deal volume 2008 deal value
July 23 $2.3bn 21 $994m
August 18 $1.2bn 16 $497m
September 25 $1.7bn 16 $642m
October 39 $2bn 13 $487m
November 27 $3.1bn 20 $346m
December 21 $788m 14 $56m
Total 153 $11.1bn 100 $3bn

Source: The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase

Marked-down leftovers

When Oracle snapped up Primavera Systems last week, we had to spare a thought for the surviving project and portfolio management (PPM) vendors. That thought almost became the start of a eulogy as we saw Primavera’s publicly traded rival get trounced on the Nasdaq and its direct competitor still out on the market seeking a buyer.

Let’s start with the biggest of the big, Deltek Systems. Since the company, which is majority owned by buyout firm New Mountain Capital, went public a year ago, its shares have lost three-quarters of their value. That has reduced Deltek’s market capitalization to just $190m. Deltek also carries about that same amount of debt, along with a stash of roughly $33m in cash. Altogether, Deltek’s enterprise value is around $350m. That for a company that will do about $300m in revenue this year, including approximately $100m in maintenance revenue, while running at a mid-teens operating margin.

Next is Planview, another privately held PPM vendor. The Austin, Texas-based company is roughly the same size as Primavera, running at about $175m. More than a few sources have indicated that Planview has been for sale for some time, but for whatever reason, it hasn’t found a taker. Not that we imagine it would be prohibitively expensive at this point. If Plainview went for the same valuation as Primavera, it would fetch $350m; pegging the purchase price to Deltek’s current multiple would put it closer to $200m. That’s mere pocket change for IBM, which we hear may have been interested in Primavera, a partner company.

SAP’s next big deal?

Earlier this week, SAP marked the first anniversary of its largest deal ever, the $6.8bn purchase of Business Objects. Now, some folks in the market are already lining up the next multibillion-dollar acquisition for the German giant. JMP Securities analyst Pat Walravens has floated the idea that SAP may be planning to buy data-warehouse titan Teradata. (Incidentally, Teradata celebrated its own first anniversary this week, having started trading on the NYSE on October 9, 2007.)

The pairing would make a fair amount of sense. We noted a year ago that SAP and Teradata have a deep partnership, sharing more than 200 customers. And SAP clearly needs more technological heft if it wants to sell a stand-alone data warehouse. (It currently offers its data warehouse as part of the NetWeaver BI integration stack.) But we have a hard time seeing SAP reaching for Teradata, which sports a $2.9bn market capitalization.

Typically, SAP doesn’t make consolidation plays like Teradata. (That’s the role of Oracle, which is likely to be less interested in Teradata since recently rolling out its high-end data-warehouse offering, HP Oracle Database Machine, which is its answer to the massively parallel-based warehouses offered by Teradata and others.) Instead, SAP generally favors small technology purchases, and one startup that we think would fit SAP pretty well is Greenplum. SAP thought well enough of Greenplum to put some money into its series C earlier this year.

However, SAP might find itself in competition for Greenplum with the startup’s other strategic investor, Sun. Greenplum has a data warehouse appliance for Sun servers. There’s also the alumni connection: Greenplum CEO Bill Cook worked for 19 years at Sun before running the startup. That said, Greenplum is not the only data-warehouse vendor Sun has invested in, having taken a minority investment in Infobright’s series C last month.

Big, happy family or favorite child?

For an executive who learned the ropes from Larry Ellison, Marc Benioff has adopted a very ‘un-Oracle-like’ approach to M&A. Since the company he founded, Salesforce.com, went public in mid-2004, Benioff has inked just five deals. The total shopping bill: less than $100m. Oracle, on the other hand, hardly touches a deal worth less than $100m. In the same four-year period that Salesforce.com has been public, Oracle has closed 45 deals with an announced value of more than $30bn.

Of course, the two companies are in very different stages of their lives, which goes a long way toward shaping their M&A activity. While Ellison and Oracle look to consolidate huge blocks of the software landscape, Benioff and Salesforce.com target tiny technology purchases that allow them to extend their on-demand offering to new markets. We saw that with Salesforce.com’s purchase last year of content management startup Koral, which had just nine employees. And on Wednesday, Salesforce.com announced its largest deal so far, spending $31m on call center software vendor InStranet.

But we would add another – perhaps less obvious – reason for the rather shallow deal flow at Salesforce.com. In many ways, the company is caught between shopping and partnering. In an effort to get a richer valuation, Salesforce.com has pushed Force.com and AppExchange as a way to be viewed as a platform company, rather than merely an applications vendor. (That effort got a big boost this week from Dell, which said it will be developing applications on the Force.com platform over the next three years.)

However, the very success of these efforts helps to explain why Salesforce.com has to keep its checkbook in its pocket when shopping. It can either focus on building out its platform or it can focus on deal-making – it can’t do both. By design, platforms are broad, open and inclusive, while M&A necessarily involves selecting one above all others. Benioff can’t pick a favorite child and expect to have a big, happy family.

To illustrate the dilemma, consider the situation concerning sales compensation, a line of business that’s a logical extension of Salesforce.com’s core CRM product and one the company could easily buy its way into. Indeed, there are already more than a half-dozen companies offering their sales compensation products on AppExchange. But imagine if Salesforce.com decided to buy one of the vendors, say Xactly Corp. Obviously, that purchase would alienate AppExchange rivals like Centive and Callidus Software, which would probably pull their offerings from AppExchange the day the deal was announced. Salesforce.com may well make up that immediate loss of revenue down the line. But as indicated by Wall Street’s brutal reaction Thursday to the company’s second-quarter report, it’s best not to tamper with the top line.

Salesforce.com: an unwilling buyer

Announced Target Deal value Target description
Aug. 2008 InStranet $31.5m Customer service automation
Oct. 2007 CrispyNews Not disclosed Community news, website development
April 2007 Koral $7m* Web content management
Aug. 2006 Kieden Not disclosed Search engine marketing management
April 2006 Sendia $15m Wireless application developer

*451 Group estimate, Source: The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase