Contact: Brenon Daly
More than three years after buying a small stake in Ness Technologies from a fellow buyout shop, Citi Venture Capital International (CVCI) has offered some $307m in cash for all of the IT services vendor. The private equity arm of Citigroup initially picked up a 9.6% stake in Ness in early 2008 from Warburg Pincus, which funded the Israeli firm in 1999. Ness put some of that money to work in M&A, acquiring a dozen (mostly small) companies over the past decade.
Ness had been out of the market for the past year, however, as it was put in play by an unsolicited bid. (Jefferies & Company advised Ness on the sales process, along with the company’s longtime adviser Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Merrill was co-underwriter on Ness’ 2004 IPO.) We understand that Ness had attracted a fair amount of interest over two rounds of bidding, including a look from Vector Capital. CVCI’s offer of $7.75 per share represents the highest price for Ness stock since October 2008. (Interestingly, terms include a ‘no shop’ provision and a breakup fee of $8.35m, or a standard 2.7% of deal value.) CVCI expects to close the transaction within a half-year.
Contact: Brenon Daly
A little more than three years after it went private, SafeNet is looking to return to the public market. Several sources have indicated that the encryption vendor has lined up its underwriters and plans to file an S-1 in about two weeks. If indeed the offering goes ahead, it will face a market that is proving rather hostile to IPOs right now. (We recently looked at the dreary state of the IPO market in a special report.)
Through both organic and inorganic growth, the SafeNet that returns to the market will be about half the size of the one that stepped off the market. We understand that the company is running at about $450m in revenue, compared to about $300m in revenue in the year leading up to its leveraged buyout. While private, SafeNet did a handful of small deals as well as the contentious $160m take-private of Aladdin Knowledge Systems.
An IPO would mark a second straight exit for SafeNet’s owner, Vector Capital. The buyout shop sold its Register.com portfolio company last week, realizing a return of two and a half times its investment. Vector took the Web registration and design firm private in 2005, pared down the business, made it dramatically more profitable and then sold it to Web.com.
Also noteworthy about the rumored IPO by SafeNet is that the offering is being handled entirely by bulge-bracket banks. The book-runners are said to be JP Morgan Securities, Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs, with the offering co-managed by Bank of America Merrill Lynch and Deutsche Bank. Off the top of our heads, that’s the first tech IPO that we can think of that doesn’t have a regional or boutique bank also helping to bring out a company.
Contact: Brenon Daly
After almost five months of sometimes-heated negotiations, buyout shop Vector Capital and Aladdin Knowledge Systems have agreed to take the authentication vendor private. The accord comes after two formal price adjustments (one up, one down) that left the final deal valued at $160m. Vector plans to slot Aladdin into SafeNet, which it acquired in March 2007 for $634m.
Vector’s two security purchases stand in sharp contrast to each other, since the SafeNet transaction went through with a minimum of histrionics. Consider that SafeNet took just five weeks to close, compared to the drawn-out battle for Aladdin, which included the threat of a proxy fight. Part of that may be explained by the relative valuation of the two deals. Vector paid about 2x trailing 12-month sales for SafeNet, twice the multiple it is paying for Aladdin. That discount compares to a roughly 40% slump in the Nasdaq during the time between the two acquisitions.
While overall tech spending on M&A has fallen about one-third so far this year, the once-bustling leveraged buyout (LBO) business has virtually disappeared. Just how much? It’s literally dimes instead of dollars. Buyout spending has plummeted from more than $100bn during the first three quarters of 2007 to just $12bn so far this year. That’s about the level of LBOs in 2004, before buyout shops were really looking at tech companies and before banks were comfortable lending for deals in the unproven and cyclical industry. (Of course, we have new problems in the credit market these days.)
Still, LBOs are getting done, despite the disappearance of debt and, in some cases, even the banks that were backing the buyouts. Earlier this week, for instance, Bedford Funding took home on-demand talent management vendor Authoria for $63m, the first of what we expect to be several deals by Bedford in the fragmented human capital management market.
Also, Nokia said earlier this week that it plans to sell its security appliance unit to an unnamed financial buyer. Several sources have indicated that one of the lead suitors for Nokia’s firewall and VPN business is Vector Capital. The San Francisco-based buyout shop already has experience with a security hardware company, having teamed with Francisco Partners to acquire WatchGuard Technologies, the maker of the Firebox UTM appliance for the midmarket, for $151m in July 2006.
PE deal flow
Source: The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase
After a few months of pointed exchanges, Aladdin Knowledge Systems and its would-be buyer, Vector Capital, have agreed to a standstill in an attempt to negotiation a deal. Vector, the encryption vendor’s largest shareholder, had been pushing for a shareholder vote on Oct. 23 on its plan to replace three of Aladdin’s five board members. The buyout firm has set aside that demand, as well as agreeing not to unload any of its 14% holding. For its part, Aladdin agreed to sign a confidentiality agreement with Vector, and will not to seek another buyer for part or all of its business. Last month, Vector offered $13 for each share of Aladdin; the stock currently trades above that. The standstill gives the two sides at least a month to work out a deal, as Vector can’t call for another shareholder meeting until Oct. 30 at the earliest.
In contrast to the LBO of data encryption vendor SafeNet a year-and-a-half ago, Vector Capital’s latest effort to take an IT security company private has been a more contentious process. After a series of public and private exchanges with Aladdin Knowledge Systems, Vector, through a subsidiary, called for a special meeting of shareholders to vote on the buyout firm’s plan to replace three of the company’s five board members. On Thursday, Aladdin agreed to the vote, setting October 23 as the date for the proxy showdown.
Vector is currently Aladdin’s largest shareholder, with a 14% stake (Aladdin insiders hold about 20%). The buyout firm began picking up shares earlier this summer at about $9 per share. It quickly piled up a 9% stake, and has since bumped it up to 14%. Along the way, we understand it made numerous private offers to buy the company and then disclosed in late August a public offer to buy the rest of the company at $13 per share. While Vector’s offer represented a 40-50% premium from when the firm started buying, Aladdin shares have ticked above the offer, changing hands at $13.80 in mid-Friday trading.
The unsolicited bid from Vector didn’t go over well with Aladdin. The company has dismissed it as ‘opportunistic’ but hasn’t said much more than that. Behind the scenes, Aladdin has carped that the only party that stands to gain from Vector’s bid is Vector, either by picking up Aladdin on the cheap or disrupting Aladdin’s business enough that it would benefit rival SafeNet, a Vector portfolio company. Investors, who have seen Aladdin shares shed as much as two-thirds of their value since last October, may not be so dismissive of the floor price set by Vector. (They are also mindful of what might happen to their holdings if Vector stymied in its efforts to ink a deal gets rid of its 14% stake of Aladdin. Look out below.)
In the month remaining before the vote, we suspect the jabbing and jockeying between Aladdin and Vector will increase. Israel-based Aladdin recently retained the PR firm Joele Frank, Wilkinson Brimmer Katcher, which is basically the go-to shop for companies caught in a bear hug, to get its side of the story out. But the company, along with all of its flaks, faces an experienced bidder. Not only has Vector pushed through unsolicited bids in the past, one of the partners working on the firm’s efforts, David Fishman, has worked on the other side of the table. Before joining Vector, Fishman was a banker at Goldman Sachs, where he worked on a number of defensive deals, including PeopleSoft’s attempted stiff-arm of Oracle. We’re pretty confident that no one involved in this transaction wants to repeat the nastiness of Oracle’s hostile run at PeopleSoft.
With all the bidding and buying, it’s hard to keep straight what’s going on with Vector Capital. Already this year, the tech buyout shop has made several offers for down-and-out companies. It even got one through last week, as portfolio company Tripos announced a $57m purchase of drug development software maker Pharsight. The deal is expected to close by year-end.
However, Vector’s other recent M&A moves, most of them coming as unsolicited offers, haven’t been as straight-forward. It made an on-again, off-again run this summer at Corel, a half-decade after taking it private and two years after spinning it back onto the public market. (We would note that Corel shares have never traded as high as they did at the IPO in spring 2006.) Vector also bid for troubled content management vendor Captaris, but lost out to the acquisition-hungry Open Text. The $131m deal is expected to close before year-end, and Captaris shares are trading as if the transaction will go through.
In addition to those mixed efforts, Vector has made an unusual two-pronged approach at Israeli security company Aladdin Knowledge Systems. First, it offered to buy Aladdin outright, offering $13 for each share it doesn’t already own. (Vector is Aladdin’s largest shareholder, holding some 14% of the company.) Then, Vector offered to pick up just Aladdin’s digital rights management (DRM) business. The DRM business is the most-attractive unit at Aladdin, and would fit nicely with SafeNet, which Vector took private last year. Perhaps not surprisingly, Aladdin has said ‘thanks, but no thanks’ to both unsolicited options, and has retained Credit Suisse to advise it.
Selected Vector transactions
|Precise Software (Symantec)
|Application performance management
|Pharmaceutical industry software
|Desktop productivity software
Source: The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase
For the second time in as many years, Open Text has topped a buyout shop to take home a struggling enterprise content management (ECM) vendor. In mid-2006, Open Text crashed a planned take-private of rival Hummingbird by Symphony Technology Group, along with financial backer Tennenbaum Capital Partners. To land Hummingbird, Open Text ended up paying about $18m more than the buyout firm had offered.
Open Text won’t have to reach nearly as far into its pockets this time around. On Thursday, the company bid $4.80 per share of Captaris, valuing the document capture technology vendor at $131m. That’s only a $1.4m – or less than 1% of deal value – bump over an existing offer from buyout firm Vector Capital. Vector made the offer of $4.75 per share of Captaris in March, six months after it began pushing the company to sell.
By the time Vector met with Captaris, it had snapped up about 2.7 million shares, or about 10% of the company. However, according to an SEC filing on its purchases, Vector paid around $5 per share. It’s hard to see how the buyout firm is going to be too far above water on its Captaris holdings, given the $4.80 per share offer from Open Text. As a final note, we close with the fact that if Vector had just bought a slug of Open Text stock when it started buying Captaris shares, it would be up nearly 40% on that holding. We know Vector isn’t a money management firm, but in this case, it would have been better to buy the buyer, rather than the seller.