WDC goes SSD

-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

Date announced Target Enterprise value Price to sales multiple
March 30, 2009 SiliconSystems $65m 1.3x*
June 28, 2007 Komag $1.14bn 1.1x
July 24, 2003 Read-Rite $172m 1.0x

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

How do you say ‘please come back’ in Korean?

-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.