A Freudian deal?

We’ve run a lot of different analyses on transactions, but AccessData’s proposed acquisition of Guidance Software is the first one we’ve ever subjected to Freudian analysis. What do we mean? Well, almost all of the executives at AccessData, a private data forensics software vendor, used to work at publicly traded Guidance. (AccessData’s CEO, COO and two VPs are former employees of the company they are now bidding on.)

After its initial bid a month ago was rebuffed, AccessData took public on Tuesday its offer of $4.50 for each share of Guidance. With about 23 million shares outstanding, the proposed transaction values Guidance at about $105m. However, debt-free Guidance holds $28m in cash, lowering the enterprise value of the bid to about $77m. Guidance is expected to record about $90m in sales this year. In comparison, AccessData is about one-third that size, primarily because it doesn’t have any services revenue.

We understand AccessData, which has never taken outside funding, plans to finance the deal internally, if it goes through. Guidance has rejected the bid. And, although AccessData has threatened to take its unsolicited proposal directly to shareholders, a tender offer is unlikely to go through unless it gets the blessing of one Guidance executive: Chairman and CTO Shawn McCreight, who founded the company and owns some 44% of its stock. If nothing else, AccessData’s bid will make Guidance’s third-quarter conference call on Thursday more interesting.

Expensive independence

It was a rough week all around for stocks (once again), but the decline was especially galling for holders of shares in companies that had earlier attracted unsolicited offers. Two big would-be targets, neither of which is still being hunted, were in the news again this week: Yahoo and SanDisk. And the news wasn’t good.

Jerry Yang and the rest of the Yahoo-ers (at least the ones who survived the 10% job cuts) revealed that business was a bit soft in the third quarter. Sales were stagnant, and the search engine earned only one-third the amount that it did during the same period last year. So much for their go-it-alone plan. You’ll recall that Yahoo repeatedly brushed aside a $31-per-share offer from Microsoft earlier this year. The stock closed Thursday at $12.65, near its lowest level since mid-2003.

Meanwhile, SanDisk shares also hit a five-and-half-year low after Samsung on Tuesday pulled its $5.85bn unsolicited offer for the flash memory card maker. Samsung aired its offer of $26 for each SanDisk share in September, after several months of unsuccessful overtures. SanDisk shares closed Thursday at $9.14. That means the rejection by SanDisk’s board has cost shareholders more than the rejection by Yahoo’s much-pilloried board, at least on a relative basis. SanDisk shares are changing hands at about 65% below Samsung’s offer, while Yahoo stock is trading ‘only’ 59% below Microsoft’s bid.

Elliott elbows Epicor

Well, that didn’t take long. Just two days after we noted who won’t be bidding for Epicor, Elliott Associates tossed an offer of $9.50 per share for Epicor. The bid comes just two months after the hedge fund disclosed a large stake and began stirring for a sale of the old-line ERP vendor. With about 59m shares outstanding, Elliott’s offer values Epicor’s equity at about $566m. Additionally, Epicor holds $132m in cash and $380m in debt, giving the proposed deal an enterprise value of $814m. Epicor, which has seen substantial executive turnover this year, has struggled to record growth recently. However, the business has two attractive assets: a healthy maintenance revenue stream and solid cash-flow generation. Epicor shares closed Wednesday at $8.93, their highest level since mid-April.

Barracuda bares its teeth

Never known as a shy or retiring competitor, Barracuda Networks has lobbed an unsolicited bid to acquire Sourcefire for $7.50 per share in cash. (Full report.) That works out to a slight 13% premium on Sourcefire’s closing price ahead of the bid, and essentially where the shares began 2008.

We look at Barracuda’s bid as setting a ‘floor price’ for Sourcefire. It is certainly an opportunistic offer, as Sourcefire has been burned on Wall Street. (The company didn’t help itself when it came up short of investors’ expectations in its first quarter as a public company a year ago.) To get this deal closed, however, we suspect Barracuda will have to raise its bid. Investors have already pushed Sourcefire shares above the offer price.

To push this deal along, Barracuda can draw on the experience of one of its two outside backers, Francisco Partners. The buyout shop took IT security appliance vendor WatchGuard Technologies private in July 2006 after a protracted and bitter campaign.

Crisis averted

After three months of nonsense, Ballmer’s folly is over. Microsoft’s CEO said over the weekend he will not pursue Yahoo, a move that shareholders applauded right from the opening bell on Monday. (Microsoft stock never traded below Friday’s close, while shares of Yahoo, which had been abandoned to trade on the company’s fundamentals, were slashed 15% in early Monday afternoon trading.) In our view, the ‘relief rally’ in Microsoft stock solidifies our view that the company was wrong-headed — both in decision and execution — to go after Yahoo.

We need only look back in Microsoft’s own M&A history to see how unlikely it was to get the kind of returns it was hoping from Yahoo. In early part of this decade, Microsoft inked a pair of deals for business software companies that was supposed to narrow the gap to the long-dominant vendors. In quick order, Microsoft shelled out a combined $2.4bn for Great Plains Software and Navision Software and set about knocking off SAP and Oracle. Executives talked about Microsoft’s division, which sold ERP and CRM software, growing into a $10bn business. That hasn’t happened – not even close. More than a half-decade later, it barely scratches out $1bn in annual sales and increasingly appears technologically and competitively irrelevant. The acquisitions did nothing to make up ground on SAP or Oracle, much less the new breed of rivals including Salesforce.com and SugarCRM. (We recently made the case that Microsoft should divest this unit, called Dynamics.)
Adding Yahoo to Microsoft’s online division would have simply repeated the mistakes of Dynamics. The protracted and messy acquisition of Yahoo would not have gotten Microsoft any closer to knocking off Google from its top spot in online search advertising. To their credit, the folks in Redmond, Wash. saw the past as prelude. And if the cautionary tale served up by Dynamics was a little too close to home, Ballmer could always pick up the phone and call Jerry Levin to ask how Time Warner’s ‘transformative’ $185bn purchase of AOL worked out. Of course, Ballmer tabling the Yahoo bid does leave one question unanswered: Which transaction destroys more shareholder value? Trying to graft a sprawling Internet property onto a media company or trying to graft a sprawling Internet property onto a software company? Even though Ballmer left the door open for a future bid for Yahoo, his shareholders have already indicated they don’t want to pay to find out the answer to that question.    

Short and sour

Date Event Yahoo stock price
Feb. 1, 2008 Microsoft unveils $31 per share unsolicited offer for Yahoo $28.38 (up 48%)
May 5, 2008 Microsoft pulls offer $24.24 in afternoon trading (down 16%)