Could ad slump lead to ValueClick exit?

-Contact Thomas Rasmussen

Recently, we’ve covered the hardships of online advertising companies. However, for a clear example of just how tough the environment really is, we point to the weakness at ValueClick, one of the few remaining publicly traded pure-play advertising firms. Amid an advertising slump and tough competition, the vendor has seen its first-quarter revenue decline 20% from the same quarter last year and its own projections point to a similar decline for the current quarter. With the advertising market seemingly trapped in the doldrums for the foreseeable future, we wonder if an opportunistic acquirer might consider a run at ValueClick.

ValueClick trades at an enterprise value of about $800m. This is about half its 2008 high, and down about two-thirds from 2007, when Google and Microsoft were throwing billions of dollars around to secure market leadership. With $592m in trailing 12-month (TTM) revenue, the company trades at a scant 1.3x sales. This is a far cry from the multiples paid for aQuantive and DoubleClick of 10x TTM sales and 12x TTM sales, respectively.

With $100m in cash and no debt, ValueClick CEO Tom Vadnais has indicated that the company is interested in doing some shopping of its own. However, given the dire state of the economy, we think a takeout is a much more plausible outcome over the next year or so. The potential acquirers include the usual suspects such as Microsoft, Google and IAC/InterActiveCorp; soon-to-be-independent AOL; and large media companies. However, we would hasten to note that most of these vendors have full traditional advertising portfolios, so an acquisition of ValueClick would merely be for boosting market share.