Preferred gets preference

Even with McAfee’s offer of $5.75 in cash for each share of Secure Computing representing a premium of about 27% over the previous close, many Secure shareholders are underwater. In June, Secure sank to its lowest level in six years, part of a slide that has seen some 40% of its market value erased this year. The decline left the company trading at just 1x revenue. (When it shed its authentication business at the end of July, we noted that the divested unit sold for twice the valuation of the remaining Secure business, a highly unusual situation in corporate castoffs. We also asked if the move wasn’t a prelude to an outright sale of the company.)

It turns out, however, that the stock’s decline didn’t really affect Secure’s largest shareholder, Warburg Pincus. The private equity firm took a $70m stake in Secure in January 2006. (Secure took the money to help it pay for its mid-2005 purchase of CyberGuard.) Yet, because of the way Warburg structured its purchase, the shop ended up making money on its holding. That’s true even though Secure stock, even with McAfee’s offer, is some 60% below where it was when Warburg took its stake. (Shares changed hands at $14.40 each when Warburg picked up its holding, although the conversion price was adjusted slightly six months later to offset the potential dilution caused by Secure’s cash-and-stock purchase of CipherTrust.)

In the end, Warburg pocketed $84m from McAfee for its Secure holdings, which were largely made up of series A preferred shares. Having put $70m into Secure, and then seen the shares sink, we guess Warburg is probably content to book even a slight gain on its investment.

Spending the ‘divestiture dividend’

On the same day it closed the divestiture of its authentication business, Secure Computing said it will pay $15m for Securify. The deal, which is expected to close in the fourth quarter, also has a potential $5m earnout. Secure said it plans to add Securify’s identity-based monitoring and control technology to its firewall. The majority of Securify’s customers are government, and Secure Computing plans to cross-sell into that market. Founded in 1998, Securify had raised more than $70m in VC. However, it only generated about $13m in revenue last year. Secure Computing indicated the acquisition would boost earnings next fiscal year.

Post-acquisition decapitation

The write-offs from wrong-headed acquisitions just keep coming. And we don’t mean just financial write-offs. Instead, we’re referring to the practice of a company’s board ‘writing off’ the executives who crafted a deal. This week’s high-profile example came when Alcatel-Lucent finally tossed overboard the two architects of ‘la grande fusion.’ Since that deal was announced in April 2006, the combination has incinerated some $20bn over shareholder value, leaving the telco equipment vendor with a market capitalization of just $13.6bn. (That’s less than the sales the company posted in 2007.) That two-year performance finally got Serge Tchuruk, the company’s chairman who represents the Alcatel side of the combination, and Patricia Russo, the Lucent legacy, shown the door.

This house-cleaning at Acaltel-Lucent comes just two weeks after AMD kicked Hector Ruiz upstairs. In virtually the same breath that AMD announced Ruiz would be relieved of his CEO post but continue as chairman, the company said it will divest much of the business it picked up with its $5.4bn purchase of graphics chip maker ATI Technologies. Announcing the deal two years ago, Ruiz said his combination offered ‘limitless’ possibilities for innovation. Instead, the future of AMD looks rather limited, in large part because of the $2.5bn it borrowed to cover its disastrous purchase of ATI. AMD’s total debt stands at $5bn, compared with just $1.6bn in cash.

Meanwhile, a chief executive who we’ve always thought must be on the hot-seat for a misguided acquisition appears to have gotten a bit of a reprieve this week. Symantec CEO John Thompson said Wednesday that fiscal first-quarter sales of its backup products outpaced overall revenue growth. That reverses the recent weakness in the company’s storage offering, which Symantec acquired with its $13.5bn purchase of Veritas in December 2004. Wall Street applauded the company’s report, with shares up about 10% since Wednesday. Still, Thompson has yet to recognize much value from the three-and-half-year-old purchase of Veritas. Symantec shares, which changed hands at $21.74 midday on Friday, are still about $6 below where they were when the company picked up Veritas. Perhaps that goes some distance to explaining the loose rumors this week that something big – possibly the much-discussed divestiture of the storage business or even an outright sale of the company – was brewing at Symantec.

Leading the acquisition

Deal Stock performance since deal Status of acquiring company CEO since deal
Symantec-Veritas, Dec. 2004 Down 35% John Thompson, CEO since April 1999, continues to serve
Alcatel-Lucent, April 2006 Down 61% CEO Russo and chairman Tchuruk ousted this week
AMD-ATI, July 2006 Down 77% Long-time CEO Hector Ruiz replaced in mid-July
Secure Computing-CipherTrust, July 2006 Down 51% Chairman and CEO John McNulty replaced in April

Source: Company reports, The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase

Sizing up Secure Computing

In many ways, Secure Computing’s divestiture of its authentication business to Aladdin Knowledge Systems raises more questions than it answers. Secure’s rationale for the sale is pretty simple: pay down some debt and get out of a sideline business that’s dominated by RSA and has a solid number two in Vasco Data Security. (For the record, Vasco is about four times the size of Secure’s SafeWord business and runs at a highly respected 25% operating margin.)

So it’s pretty clear why Secure was a willing seller (in fact, we hear that Secure had been a willing seller of the business for more than a year). Less clear is why Aladdin was a willing buyer of the property – at a relatively rich price of 2x sales, no less. Aladdin investors chose not to stick around for the company’s explanation of why it was willing to shell out two-thirds of its cash holdings for a product line in a cutthroat market. They fled the stock, trimming 14% off the price and sending Vasco to its lowest level since January 2004.

Of course, Secure has had an even rougher run of it on the market recently, as the company has come up short of Wall Street estimates for the past two quarters. Shares of Secure currently change hands lower than they have at any point during the past half-decade. Since the beginning of the year, the stock has shed 60%, a decline that recently cost longtime CEO James McNulty his job.

The long, uninterrupted slide in Secure’s valuation raises an even larger question about the divestiture: Was the sale of SafeWord just a prelude to an outright sale of the company itself? The numbers certainly don’t work against a deal. In fact, Secure is currently valued at basically 1x sales – just half the level it got for the divested property. (Usually, it’s the reverse, with corporate cast-offs getting sold at less than half the overall company’s valuation.)

Any planned acquisition, however, would probably have to go through Warburg Pincus, which holds the equivalent of about 7% of Secure’s common stock, going back to a financing deal it struck to help Secure buy CipherTrust in July 2006 for $264m. Warburg invested $70m at a time when Secure stock was trading at about 3x higher than it is now. With Warburg that far underwater on its holding, we can only imagine the pointed questions the private equity firm will ask Secure.