Bruised by a fight in the clouds, Rackspace has opted to go private in $4.3bn leveraged buyout (LBO) with Apollo Global Management. The company, which has been public for eight years, is in the midst of a transition from its original plan to sell basic cloud infrastructure, where it couldn’t compete with Amazon Web Services, to taking a more services-led approach. Terms of the take-private reflect the fact that although Rackspace has made great strides in overhauling its business, much work remains.
Leon Black’s buyout shop will pay $32 for each share of Rackspace, which is exactly the price the stock was trading at a year ago. Further, it is less than half the level that shares changed hands at back in early 2013. Of course, at that time, Rackspace was growing at a high-teens clip, which is twice the 8% pace the company has grown so far this year.
In terms of valuation, Rackspace is going private at just half the prevailing market multiple for large LBOs so far in 2016. According to 451 Research’s M&A KnowledgeBase, the previous nine take-privates on US exchanges valued at more than $500m have gone off at 4.4x sales. (See our full report on the record number – as well as valuations – of take-privates in 2016.) In comparison, Rackspace is valued at just slightly more than 2x trailing sales: $4.3bn on $2bn of revenue, with roughly the same amount of cash as debt.
More relevant to Rackspace as it moves into a private equity (PE) portfolio is that even as the company (perhaps belatedly) transitions to a new model – one that includes offering services on top of AWS, Azure and other cloud infrastructure providers that Rackspace once competed against – is that it generates a ton of cash. Sure, growth may be slowing, but Rackspace has still thrown off some $674m of EBITDA over the past year.
The company’s 33% EBITDA margin is even more remarkable when we consider that Rackspace, which has more than 6,000 employees, is relatively well-regarded by its customers for its ‘fanatical’ support of its offerings. While we could imagine that focus on customer service as competitive differentiator might set up some tension under PE ownership (people are expensive and tend not to scale very well), Rackspace has the advantage of having built that into a profitable business. In short, Rackspace is just the sort of business that should fit comfortably in a PE portfolio.
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