-Contact Thomas Rasmussen
The market for solid-state-drive (SSD) technology is heating up. As an increasing number of consumer and enterprise products (including servers, desktops, laptops and netbooks) incorporate the technology, some old-line technology companies are looking to expand their SSD offerings. Western Digital acknowledged that last week by acquiring SSD vendor SiliconSystems for $65m in cash after about a year of on-and-off talks. (It was Western Digital’s first purchase since its $1.14bn acquisition of Komag in mid-2007.) On the other side, SiliconSystems had taken in just $14m in venture capital since its inception in 2002 from Miramar Venture Partners, Rustic Canyon Partners, Samsung Ventures America, Shepherd Ventures and SanDisk.
We understand that SiliconSystems generated about $50m in trailing 12-month (TTM) sales, meaning Western Digital paid about 1.3x TTM sales for the startup. This is in line with historical averages for the space, but comes at a time when the median valuation for venture-backed startups has been nearly cut in half. In the first quarter of 2009, the median valuation in a sale for a VC-backed tech company sank to just 2.1x TTM sales, compared to 3.8x TTM sales during the same period last year. (See our full report on first-quarter M&A.)
SiliconSystems will be re-branded as Western Digital’s Solid-State Storage business unit and will be headed by former CEO Michael Hajeck, who used to run STEC Inc’s enterprise SSD division. The importance of this relatively small acquisition should not be underestimated. Having essentially become a player in the SSD space overnight, Western Digital has taken the first step toward securing its future survival. With $1.4bn in cash, we wonder if Western Digital will continue to use acquisitions to expand in this market. Possible targets are Hajeck’s former employer STEC, which we previously speculated might be on sale, as well as Smart Modular Technologies. There are also a few potentially disruptive startups out there worth looking at such as Pliant Technology, Texas Memory Systems and Fusion-io.
Western Digital M&A
||Price to sales multiple
|March 30, 2009
|June 28, 2007
|July 24, 2003
Source: The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase *451 Group estimate
-Contact Thomas Rasmussen
When SanDisk released its dismal earnings this week, dismayed shareholders hastily headed for the hills. The exodus caused SanDisk’s stock to plunge 25%. In the fourth quarter of 2008, the flash memory giant lost $1.6bn, pushing its total loss for the year to $2bn. This red ink from operations was exacerbated by the company’s $1bn of acquisition-related write-downs stemming from its $1.5bn acquisition of msystems in July 2006. In the days following the dire news, SanDisk has been trading at a valuation of around $2.2bn. That’s a far cry from the $5.6bn that Samsung offered for SanDisk in September.
To put the decline in perspective, SanDisk’s three largest outside shareholders – Clearbridge Advisors, Capital International Asset Management and Capital Guardian Trust, which collectively own more than 15% of SanDisk (as of September 30) – suffered a paper loss of more than $700m since the day Samsung walked away from the proposed deal. Given this, we wouldn’t be surprised if shareholder ire forced SanDisk to reconsider its strategic options this year. On its earnings call this past Monday, the company reiterated that its board is indeed open to deal with any interested parties, which begs the inevitable question: Who might be willing buyers?
With private equity largely stymied and longtime partner Toshiba repeatedly stating that it’s not interested in a deal, Samsung is still the most logical fit. It has the cash, has shown a willingness to pay a solid premium, and would integrate well with SanDisk’s overall portfolio of products. In addition to its valuable intellectual property assets (which would eliminate those ugly royalty fees) and flash and solid-state drive lineup, SanDisk would instantly give Samsung the second-largest share of the music player market, behind only Apple. Perhaps it’s time for SanDisk CEO Eli Harari to brush up on his Korean, or at least learn how to say ‘please come back’ in that language.
SanDisk shot down a $5.85bn all-cash unsolicited bid from Samsung Electronics, saying the bid by the South Korean electronics giant doesn’t reflect the full value of flash memory provider. Despite the rejection, SanDisk shares surged 39%, closing at $20.92. Samsung bid $26 for each share. Last October, SanDisk shares changed hands above $50. Samsung made its offer public after saying four months of talks had come to nothing. SanDisk posted a loss and a sales decline last quarter. The company projects revenue for the current quarter will drop about one-quarter from last year. Included in SanDisk’s revenue is several hundred million dollars that Samsung pays SanDisk each year for patent royalties.
Napster, once hailed as the king of digital music, has fallen on hard times. Its stock is down 35% this year alone, and 55% from its 52-week high set in October 2007. Resulting shareholder ire forced the company to announce last week that it is seeking strategic alternatives to boost value, and it has hired UBS Investment Bank to lead the effort. Who might acquire the house that Shawn Fanning built?
Since relaunching as a legal music service in late 2003, Napster has been unable to turn a profit. The company pulled in $125m in revenue for the trailing 12 months ended June 30 from about 708,000 paid subscribers. Despite increasing revenue 15% year-over-year, the company had a negative EBITDA of $12.3m and subscriber count decreased from last quarter’s total of 761,000. The switch from stagnation to a drop in subscribers for the first time means that Napster will be unable to keep growing revenue. Consequently, that makes it doubtful that it will be able to achieve profitability. Nevertheless, with $36.9m in cash and $30.7m in short-term investments, Napster is an attractive target at its current valuation of $62.25m.
We previously speculated that SanDisk would attempt to acquire a proprietary music service of its own. But given its financial woes, as well as reported takeover negotiations with Samsung, we do not think it will bite. We believe Napster’s fierce competitor RealNetworks, the majority owner of the Rhapsody music service, is the most likely acquirer. Amid growing competition from Apple, which unveiled its iTunes 8 and a new line of iPods this week, and with digital music newcomers Amazon, Nokia and a few promising startups making waves, this is a much more plausible proposition. Last year Rhapsody picked up Viacom’s Urge, which had been struggling despite its high-profile association with MTV and Microsoft. RealNetworks has the cash, and has repeatedly told us it is bullish on acquisitions that spur growth. Given Napster’s current valuation and similar deals, we estimate that it will fetch around $80-100m in a sale.
With its $6.5m tuck-in acquisition of MusicGremlin last week, SanDisk is bulking up its digital music player business. MusicGremlin, with just eight employees and about $5m in revenue, will obviously not have a material effect on SanDisk’s business. Nonetheless, the importance is not so much the size or scope of the company, but more the technology it has developed during its four years in operation. Specifically, MusicGremlin gives SanDisk the ability to effectively stream music wirelessly to its products. We have learned that SanDisk was very eager to acquire the startup, with the large company initiating talks and sealing a deal within a few weeks. Given SanDisk’s recent effort to build its product offerings through strategic acquisitions, what other acquisitions might the company be considering?
From our perspective, SanDisk needs to do some shopping. It currently ranks a distant second place to Apple in the digital music player market, but also faces stiff competition from the likes of Microsoft, Sony and Panasonic. Perhaps the biggest hole in SanDisk’s offerings is the lack of an in-house music and video content provider, like Apple has with its iTunes and Microsoft has with its Zune Marketplace. To date, SanDisk has relied exclusively on partnerships, but learned the downside of that strategy the hard way in February, when Yahoo suddenly shuttered its Music Unlimited service. The disappearance of the service, which was the very foundation of SanDisk’s Sansa Connect player, left users understandably sour.
As to where SanDisk might look for a music service, two names come to mind: Rhapsody (owned by RealNetworks) and Napster. Despite taking in about $150m and $130m last year, respectively, both are consistently running at a loss. Clearly they could be had for a steal. More importantly, they are both proven and established music services with mobile offerings that would make integrating MusicGremlin’s technology an easy task. Using Napster as a comparable, we believe either company can be had for just under $100m, representing a 40% premium over Napster’s current price on Nasdaq. With $1.22bn in cash and a market cap of $5.2bn, SanDisk could certainly afford a few deals to shore up its defenses for the inevitable battle of the titans.