Double-door exits

Contact: Brenon Daly

When companies look for an exit, there is usually door number one (IPO) or door number two (trade sale). But in some rare cases, it’s not either/or, it’s both. That’s playing out in two very different ways around Symantec’s acquisition of encryption vendor PGP. The purchase by Big Yellow was the first of a doubleheader day in which it also picked up its OEM partner, GuardianEdge Technologies. (Incidentally, the PGP buy was Symantec’s largest acquisition since reaching across the Atlantic for on-demand vendor MessageLabs in October 2008.)

But back to exits. With the sale of PGP, we expect the next big liquidity event for an encryption vendor to be the IPO of SafeNet. We’ve heard recent talk of an offering for the company, which was taken private by Vector Capital in early 2007. Since its buyout, SafeNet has done a few deals of its own, including the contentious acquisition of Aladdin Knowledge Systems in August 2008. We understand that SafeNet is running at north of $400m in revenue.

The sale of PGP also means that investment firm DE Shaw has now recorded one of each potential exit over the past month. In late March, portfolio company Meru Networks went public, and now fetches a market valuation of about $250m. (The offering by Meru came after many other wireless LAN providers got snapped up.) DE Shaw also owned a chunk of PGP, meaning it will also get a payday from Symantec’s $300m purchase of the encryption vendor.

Sales of tech assets are on the rise

-by Thomas Rasmussen, Yulitza Peraza

At a time when both M&A volume and deal values have declined dramatically, the relative volume of asset sales continues to rise. There are two main contributors to this. First, companies are under increasing pressure to focus on their core operations, so they’re looking to divest underperforming business units. And second, cash-burning startups often find their venture backers unwilling to sink more money into them, resulting in wind-down sales of the intellectual property they had developed.

For the first quarter of 2008, the volume of asset sales represented some 15% of total announced transactions. That number doubled in the first quarter of 2009 and has even inched up a bit in April. About one out of every three transactions announced so far this year has been an asset sale.

For all the talk of unbridgeable valuation gaps, however, we would note that the buyers often get a sharp markdown on the price of the assets. Consider Artistdirect’s acquisition of SafeNet’s MediaSentry unit this month. SafeNet, which originally paid $20m for the division in 2005, wanted the MediaSentry assets off its books before the end of the first quarter, and Artistdirect’s new management was happy to fork over less than $1m for the unit. We understand that the deal closed within a few weeks. Or look at semiconductor startup Nethra Imaging, which picked up the assets of Ambric for an estimated $1m this month. Ambric had received an estimated $30m in funding, but when investors refused to step up with another round, the startup had little choice but to sell.

Asset sales spike

Period Volume of asset sales, as % of overall M&A
April 1-24, 2009 32.4%
Q1 2009 31.8%
Q4 2008 19.9%
Q3 2008 17.4%
Q2 2008 16.2%
Q1 2008 15.8%
Q4 2007 13.7%

Source: The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase

Polishing off Aladdin

Contact: Brenon Daly

After almost five months of sometimes-heated negotiations, buyout shop Vector Capital and Aladdin Knowledge Systems have agreed to take the authentication vendor private. The accord comes after two formal price adjustments (one up, one down) that left the final deal valued at $160m. Vector plans to slot Aladdin into SafeNet, which it acquired in March 2007 for $634m.

Vector’s two security purchases stand in sharp contrast to each other, since the SafeNet transaction went through with a minimum of histrionics. Consider that SafeNet took just five weeks to close, compared to the drawn-out battle for Aladdin, which included the threat of a proxy fight. Part of that may be explained by the relative valuation of the two deals. Vector paid about 2x trailing 12-month sales for SafeNet, twice the multiple it is paying for Aladdin. That discount compares to a roughly 40% slump in the Nasdaq during the time between the two acquisitions.