Saying ‘Goodnight’ to a stand-alone SAS?

Contact: Brenon Daly

After years of politely – but unequivocally – rebuffing all M&A approaches, is SAS Institute chief executive James Goodnight suddenly listening to pitches? Rumor has it that Goodnight, who has fashioned the business analytics vendor in the manner of a corporate patriarch of the 19th century, may finally be ready to sell. Any deal for SAS, of course, would have to go through Goodnight, as he owns two-thirds of the company outright.

If SAS is indeed in play – which, granted, is a big, multibillion-dollar assumption – it would represent a dramatic shift in not only the corporate history of the 35-year-old company, but also, more broadly, the landscape for business intelligence (BI) software. Goodnight has steered his firm on a path of independence through the years of consolidation in the BI industry. Most notably, he sat out the spree of deals in 2007 that saw his three largest publicly traded BI rivals get snapped up for a total of some $15bn.

All the while, Goodnight has been shaping a culture at SAS that is a bit of a throwback to the cradle-to-grave employee benefits that other tech vendors, which have to appease outside investors, could never offer. (Among the perks: a pianist who plays in the employee cafeteria, Olympic-sized swimming pools and even onsite Montessori childcare.) SAS employs more than 12,000 people.

SAS’s unique corporate traits have made it not only one of the most valuable privately held software companies, but also one of the most difficult to know what to do with it. (We have referred to SAS as the ‘white elephant’ of the software industry.) A decade ago, SAS worked with Goldman Sachs to explore a possible IPO, but that came to nothing. Goldman is thought to be running the current M&A process for SAS, too.

So that leaves a sale of SAS as Goodnight’s only exit. Companies rumored to be interested in SAS include Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Oracle, SAP and EMC, which is thought to be the lead horse at this point. But there’s still the not-insignificant matter of price. While still loose, the numbers we have heard for SAS, which recorded sales of $2.4bn in 2010, value the company at $12-13bn. Even a price only slightly above that range would make a purchase of SAS the largest-ever software deal, eclipsing Symantec’s $13.5bn stock swap for Veritas Software in late 2004.

Echoes of Oracle in Infor’s reach for Lawson

Contact: Brenon Daly

Now that Lawson Software has agreed to a sale to Infor Global Solutions, it’s perhaps worth speculating about just how much Charles Philips learned about the art of M&A during his previous job. Philips, of course, currently serves as CEO of Infor after seven years at Oracle, which has a reputation as a (how to say it?) ‘disciplined buyer.’ The connotations of that description probably depend on which side of the table you sit on. At Oracle, the term is a compliment meaning ‘fiscally responsible’ while the view from the buyside might hold that they are ‘cheap.’

In any case, Philips’ proposed ‘take-under’ of Lawson, which got formalized on Tuesday, carries many of the hallmarks that some folks associate with deals done by his former shop: quick process, relatively low valuation and a confident ‘one-and-done’ offer. Recall that it was just six weeks ago that Infor, which is backed by Golden Gate Capital, lobbed an unsolicited offer of $11.25 per share for Lawson. And even though shares of the old-line ERP vendor traded $1 above the bid in recent weeks, Infor stuck to its original offer.

Provided the deal gets done, the acquisition marks a new era at Infor, with a new chief executive setting its course. Before Philips joined Infor last October, the consolidator had dramatically slowed its dealmaking, announcing just three deals over the previous four years. (And the recent purchases were much smaller ones at that.) Lawson stands as Infor’s largest-ever acquisition, one that will boost the company’s revenue by roughly one-third to some $3bn. Just the sort of move Oracle might have made when Philips was there.

A severe case of buyer’s remorse for SAP

Contact: China Martens

Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Would SAP still have gone ahead with the $10m January 2005 purchase of fledgling third-party apps support player TomorrowNow (TN) had it had any inkling then of the financial cost more than five years later (a $1.3bn payout to Oracle and a ton of legal fees), as well as the dent to its previous sterling reputation? TN was always a loss-making business for SAP and at its height attracted less than 400 customers, a tiny proportion of the tens of thousands of Oracle apps customers.

SAP had been hoping to only have to pay out $40m over the intellectual property theft case that Oracle initiated against its bitter ERP and CRM foe and its TN business back in March 2007. Oracle alleged that TN, with SAP’s knowledge, had engaged in ‘massive theft’ of its software and related support materials through a series of illegal downloads with TN staff using customer passwords to access Oracle’s technical support websites for its JD Edwards, PeopleSoft and Siebel families of ERP and CRM apps. TN had then allegedly used the stolen materials to support its customers, offering them support at 50% less than Oracle’s rates.

More recently, SAP set aside $120m, but had in no sense been prepared that the jury would find so strongly in favor of Oracle, which had been looking for $1.7bn or more. SAP is set to appeal and ‘pursue all its options’ to reduce the award. This whole saga is far from ended – already, it’s been the stuff of Silicon Valley soap operas, with Oracle CEO Larry Ellison speaking out against new Hewlett-Packard CEO Leo Apotheker, a former CEO of SAP, and failing to serve a subpoena on him in a bizarre take on the video game Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?

Over the course of the case, Oracle had sought to continually expand the scope of the lawsuit, while SAP had tried to limit its focus. A few months into legal proceedings, SAP had admitted to some inappropriate downloads of Oracle material at TN, but shortly before the trial began, it decided not to contest contributory infringement, effectively contradicting earlier assertions that SAP executives didn’t have knowledge about what was going at TN.

The jury decision in favor of Oracle could well have a chilling effect on the remaining third-party support market. It’s one that never took off to the degree that its advocates had been expecting. In January, Oracle filed suit against the leading third-party support vendor, Rimini Street, which is headed by a cofounder of TomorrowNow. The suit was very similar in tone and scope to the TN one, but went into less specifics. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens now, since Rimini Street has been gearing up for a legal battle of this sort for some time.

Much has changed since SAP bought TomorrowNow, a unit it put up for sale, and, after finding no buyers, shuttered in October 2008. The move was triggered by Oracle’s multibillion-dollar purchases of ERP and CRM players PeopleSoft and Siebel. The widespread expectation was that Oracle would push those acquired customer bases to adopt its own E-Business Suite apps, but there was no large user exodus and Oracle has delivered new versions of its purchased apps. Indeed, Oracle has also tempered its big push around a new generation of apps, dubbed Fusion, with the initial release due next year.

So, customers in general are under much less pressure to migrate from the apps they’re currently using. At the same time, those same users are facing increased maintenance fees, which are a steady revenue source for both Oracle and SAP. It’s effectively at present in both companies’ interests to have no third-party apps support market. It will be interesting to see whether each of them revisits the concept to be one where they could have some revenue involvement. Over time, each player will face having to support a wider and wider variety of apps, versions and deployments, and they may find that taxing on their resources and therefore not as lucrative as in the past. Both companies are keenly aware of the gradual wearing-away impact of the SaaS apps market, where maintenance fees are substantially less or are factored into the cost of per-user, per-month subscriptions.

Ariba ‘mines’ for its latest deal

Contact: Brenon Daly

After three years out of the market, Ariba returned to M&A on Thursday with the $150m purchase of Quadrem. Both the current deal and the previous one help bolster the supply-chain vendor’s offering in new markets. In the case of Procuri, which was acquired in September 2007, Ariba picked up a company that was targeting small businesses. With its latest transaction, Ariba adds an offering geared for corporate giants, specifically some of the largest mining companies on earth. It also gets further into markets outside the US.

Quadrem was founded 10 years ago, and is still majority owned by a quartet of multinational mining giants (BHP Billiton, Anglo American, Rio Tinto and Vale SA). While sales to mining companies accounted for essentially all of Quadrem’s revenue in its early days, the vendor diversified into other industries in recent years. Currently, mining generates about half of Quadrem’s revenue, with the other half coming from other industries such as oil and gas as well as manufacturing.

Under terms of the deal, Quadrem’s four principal companies have extra incentive to keep using Quadrem even after the sale to Ariba closes, which is expected by next March. The reason: Ariba has held back $25m in payment and will kick in another $25m to the four companies as long as they are still using the network three years from now. Ariba says it expects to pay out the full amount. (Morgan Stanley advised Ariba on its purchase.)

Assuming that Ariba does indeed hand over the full $150m, the transaction would value Quadrem a smidge above two times this year’s projected sales of about $70m. For its part, Ariba trades at more than twice that valuation. It currently garners a market cap of about $1.7bn, compared to projected sales for calendar 2010 of about $370m. Incidentally, since Ariba last announced an acquisition three years ago, its shares have basically doubled while the Nasdaq has flatlined.

The German giant’s gamble

Contact: Brenon Daly

In the largest software transaction in more than two years, SAP plans to pick up mobility software and database vendor Sybase for a net cost of $5.8bn. SAP’s all-cash bid of $65 per share represents a 44% premium over the three-month average closing price for Sybase. More dramatically, SAP’s offer represents the highest price for Sybase stock in the target’s two decades as a public company.

The purchase, which is expected to close in July, represents a big bet by the German giant on the future of mobile applications. The two companies have partnered for more than a year, with SAP offering mobile CRM and Business Suite applications on Sybase’s Unwired Platform. Currently, mobile products account for one-third of revenue at Sybase, which started life as a database vendor. Within the database segment, Sybase also has an analytic database (Sybase IQ) that has been generating most of the growth in recent years.

At an enterprise value of $5.8bn, SAP is valuing Sybase at basically 5 times sales. (Sybase generated revenue of $1.1bn in 2009 and recently guided Wall Street to expect about 6% sales growth this year.) That’s roughly in line with the multiple SAP paid in its other large deal, the $6.8bn acquisition of Business Objects in October 2007. It’s not out of whack with SAP’s own valuation. The company trades at about 4 times sales, and that’s before any acquisition premium is figured in. Viewed another way, SAP trades at roughly 14 times cash flow, while it is paying 15 times cash flow for Sybase.

Is QlikTech a billion-dollar baby?

Contact: Brenon Daly

IPOs are not what they used to be. The companies looking to go public recently have had to scale back their expectations, cutting both the amount of money they hope to raise and what they expect to be worth as they start life as a public company. The implications of these slimmed-down debuts extend far beyond the IPO candidates themselves. Smaller offerings trim the fees available for underwriters, which rely on these hotly contested mandates to offset the cost of supporting research and trading for public companies. And perhaps more alarmingly, the lower IPO valuations make it difficult for venture capitalists and other investors to realize decent returns in what was once a fairly sure path to outsized performance.

At least that’s the situation for most IPO candidates. (For instance, we’re not knocking either Meru Networks, which went public last week, or Nexsan, which is slated to come out this week, but both are valued by the market at less than $300m.) However, there are exceptions. Just as a few companies were able to make it public in 2009, while most would-be debutants just had to ride out the recession as private businesses, there will be rich valuations doled out to IPO candidates, even during this time of discounts.

From our perspective, the next player that’s likely to enjoy a warm welcome on Wall Street is QlikTech. (At $100m, the offering itself is one of the largest enterprise software IPOs in some time.) In fact, if we pencil out the initial valuation for this fast-growing, profitable analytics provider, we come up with a number that’s in the neighborhood of $1bn. QlikTech may not hit that magical mark on its debut, but we suspect that it won’t fall too far below it. Look for our full report on the company and the offering, including our projected financials and valuation for QlikTech, in tonight’s Daily 451 sendout.

No-go IPO for RedPrairie

Contact: Brenon Daly

Scratch another name off the list of IPO candidates. RedPrairie, which had filed to go public in late November, instead sold on Tuesday to buyout shop New Mountain Capital. The sale moves the supply chain management software vendor from one private equity portfolio to another. (We understand that the two book runners on the proposed offering – Bank of America Merrill Lynch and Credit Suisse Securities – both advised RedPrairie on the deal.) In mid-2005, Francisco Partners acquired the company for $237m and subsequently rolled up another half-dozen smaller shops. Ahead of the proposed offering, Francisco owned 90% of RedPrairie.

The trade sale of RedPrairie isn’t all that surprising. (Nor, for that matter, was the fact that it put in its prospectus. We noted a month before the company officially filed to go public that it was getting close to an offering.) Looking at the financial profile of RedPrairie, it was hard to see Wall Street getting too excited about the vendor. Undoubtedly, it is profitable and hums along at a decent 20% EBITDA margin. But the top line leaves a lot to be desired.

Revenue at RedPrairie dropped 12% in the first three quarters of 2009, with license sales declining twice that level. In the first three quarters of last year – which was, admittedly, an extremely tough time to sell enterprise software – RedPrairie sold just $27m of software licenses. Meanwhile, rival JDA Software was able to generate twice as much license revenue ($60m) during the same time frame. JDA even managed a slight increase in sales of its software, compared to a double-digit percentage decline at RedPrairie.

Talk was cheap in 2009

Contact: Brenon Daly, Thomas Rasmussen

We are currently tallying up deal credits for our annual league tables. Although we’re still a few weeks away from revealing our overall rankings of the investment banks, we have pulled out a couple of interesting trends. One observation that underscores just how brutal M&A was last year is that the premium valuation that sellers typically garnered by using an adviser got all but erased in many sectors. Overall, the numbers make it indisputably clear that 2009 was a buyer’s market.

The specific valuations vary across sectors, but the software industry stands as fairly representative of this trend. In 2007, selling companies that used an adviser garnered, on average, 3.3 times trailing 12-month (TTM) sales while selling companies that didn’t use an adviser received 2.1x TTM sales. The gulf narrowed in 2008 (2.4x TTM sales for advised deals vs. 1.9x TTM sales in transactions without advisers), and essentially disappeared last year (1.4x TTM sales for advised deals vs. 1.3x TTM sales in transactions without advisers). Again, we don’t think the trend reflects the quality or value of sell-side investment banking advice as much as it indicates how few buyers were actually in the market last year. After all, it doesn’t matter how silver-tongued investment bankers may be if they’re speaking to empty chairs around the negotiating table. goes for a GroupSwim

Contact: Brenon Daly, China Martens

Almost two months ago, we noted that several sources had indicated that may have reached outside its own walls for a little help in getting its Chatter product out the door. ( showed off Chatter, an enterprise collaboration product, at its Dreamforce conference in November, although it is not yet available.) The official company line at the time was that Chatter was developed in-house, which is consistent for acquisition-averse The vendor has done just six deals – all of them tiny – in the decade that it has been in business.

In recent days, it has surfaced that did indeed acquire a startup. A visit to the homepage of GroupSwim indicates that the company ‘is now part of’ We have followed GroupSwim since mid-2008, with my colleague Kathleen Reidy initially writing that the startup’s pairing of semantic analysis with content sharing/collaboration appeared to be a promising approach in a rather crowded market. When we last visited with GroupSwim a year ago, the 15-employee firm claimed 30 customers. It was still living off angel money.

In contrast to the rather meager financial situation at GroupSwim, is closing in on an all-time price for its shares. (Current market capitalization: $8.6bn, which works out to a triple-digit P/E ratio on a trailing basis.) And the on-demand giant just priced $500m in a convertible note offering that will bring its total holdings of cash and marketable securities to $1.5bn. With such a rich treasury, could likely buy hundreds more startups like GroupSwim. Or maybe it’s thinking of something bigger?

Kana: bidding while the cash burns

Contact: Brenon Daly

The progression from spurned bidder to shareholder activist isn’t all that unusual. But it is unusual when the party smarting is a publicly traded company, and decides to express its agitation through press releases. Yet, that’s exactly how Chordiant Software is venting its frustration over not landing Kana Software, with Chordiant telling the world earlier this week that it plans to vote its shares (amounting to 4% of the total equity outstanding) against the proposed sale of Kana’s operating business to midmarket buyout firm Accel-KKR. Chordiant followed that up on Thursday evening with a new cash-and-stock offer that values Kana higher than the buyout bid.

All of this comes just days before shareholders are slated to vote on Accel-KKR’s offer (the vote is scheduled for Wednesday). Kana’s board continues to recommend that shareholders back the planned transaction, which would effectively carve the business out of Kana and leave only a shell company in its place. We have noted that it’s an imperfect structure, but one that probably serves the fundamentally flawed firm reasonably well. Of course, some shareholders (including Chordiant) don’t agree, and should vote however they want. We would only note that while the two sides argue, Kana continues to burn cash. At the end of its most-recent quarter (ending September 30), the company was down to just $1.8m (it started the year with $7m). While the cash burn is nothing new for Kana, which has lost $4.3bn since its inception, it could become pressing: Kana noted in its proxy that it has a $5.4m debt payment coming due in 2010.