Webinar: PE activity and outlook

Forget Oracle, IBM, or any of the other big-name, publicly traded acquirers that – until now – have always set the tone in the tech M&A market. If a tech deal printed in 2017, the buyer is more likely to be a private equity firm than any of the well-known serial acquirers on the US stock market. This is the first time in the history of the multibillion-dollar tech M&A market that financial acquirers have been busier than these strategic acquirers.

To understand how the ever-growing influence of buyout shops is reshaping both M&A and the tech industry, join 451 Research for an hour-long webinar on Thursday, September 7, 2017, starting at 1:00pm ET. Registration is available here: https://www.brighttalk.com/webcast/10363/274289.

Meet the new buyer of your tech company

Contact: Brenon Daly

For all the dramatic impact that private equity (PE) firms have had in snapping up huge chunks of the tech landscape, most of Silicon Valley actually knows very little about these buyout shops. (Not for nothing is the industry called private equity.) The little that is known about them probably dates back to Barbarians at the Gate, when the firms mostly operated with a strip-and-flip strategy. That’s not really the approach these new power brokers are bringing to their current tech investments.

In the rebooted strategy for hardware and software vendors, many of the buyout shops have swung their focus from costs to growth. Sure, PE firms still prize cash flow, but in many cases they will be looking as closely at the trend line for MRR as they do EBITDA generation. It’s an approach that has helped fuel five straight years of increasing tech deals by buyout shops, rising to the point now where financial acquirers are putting up more prints than the longtime leaders of the tech M&A market, strategic buyers.

Between direct acquisitions and deals done by portfolio companies, PE firms are on pace to purchase roughly 900 tech companies in 2017, which would work out to roughly one of every four tech transactions announced this year. That’s about twice the share of the tech M&A market that buyout shops have held even as recently as two years ago. More than any other buying group, PE firms are setting the tone in the market right now.

For a closer look at the stunning rise of PE buyers in the tech market, 451 Research is publishing a special two-part report on the trend, ‘Preeminent PE: The New Masters of the Tech Universe.’ The first part of the report takes a look at how financial acquirers sprinted ahead of strategic buyers, and how the current PE boom is different from the previous PE boom before the credit crisis. The second part turns to the strategy and valuations of tech deals done by buyout shops.

Although both of these reports will only be available to 451 Research subscribers, everyone is invited to join 451 Research for a webinar on the activity and outlook for PE firms in tech M&A on Thursday, September 7 at 1:00pm EST. Registration can be found here.

An unhappy anniversary for buyout shops

Contact: Brenon Daly

A decade ago, the financial world started its most recent journey toward ruin. Although the total collapse wouldn’t come for another year, the first tremors of the global financial crisis were felt in August 2007. At the time, few observers could have imagined that a bunch of bad bets made on shady mortgages could reduce some of the world’s biggest banks to heaps of rubble.

For some financial institutions, the destruction was self-inflicted. But others were simply collateral damage, counterparties to risky trades that they may not have fully understood but took on nonetheless. Whatever the cause, the result, which was just starting to be realized 10 years ago, was that everyone was in over their head.

As banks went into survival mode, the financial system dried up. Lenders, already worried about the bad debt on their books, stopped extending loans. It became a credit crisis, with whole chunks of the economy grinding to a halt. There was also a dramatic – if underappreciated – impact on the tech M&A market: the crisis effectively ended the first buyout boom.

Private equity (PE) firms were just hitting their stride when the crisis took away the currency that made their deals work: debt. Don’t forget that just months before August 2007, PE shops had announced mega-deals for First Data ($29bn) and Alltel ($27.5bn). Both of those acquisitions were $10bn bigger than any tech transaction ever announced by a financial acquirer up to that point.

Those deals turned out to be the high-water marks for PE at the time, with the water receding unexpectedly quickly. Of the 10 largest PE transactions listed in 451 Research’s M&A KnowledgeBase for 2007, only one of them came after August. More broadly, the last four crisis-shadowed months of 2007 accounted for just $7bn of the then-record $106bn in PE spending that year.

The late-2007 collapse in sponsor spending continued through 2008-09, as the recession broadened and deepened. The value of PE deals in both of those years dropped more than 80% compared with 2007, according to the M&A KnowledgeBase. The PE industry’s recovery from the credit crisis would take a long time, much longer than the relatively quick bounce-back in the equity markets, for instance. Overall spending by buyout firms wouldn’t hit 2007 levels again until 2015.

For more on the impact of PE activity in the tech market, be sure to join 451 Research for a special webinar on Thursday, September 7 at 1:00pm ET. Registration is free and available by clicking here.

In tech M&A, PE takes prominence

Contact: Brenon Daly

For the first time in tech M&A, financial acquirers are doing more deals than publicly traded strategic buyers. That’s a sharp reversal from years past, when private equity (PE) firms represented only bit players in the market, operating well outside the focus areas of US-listed acquirers. Even as recently as three years ago, US publicly traded companies were announcing more than twice as many transactions as PE shops.

So far in 2017, financial buyers (both through stand-alone purchases and deals done by their portfolio companies) have announced 511 tech transactions, slightly ahead of the 506 deals announced by tech vendors on the Nasdaq and NYSE, according to 451 Research’s M&A KnowledgeBase. Even more telling is the current trajectory of the two groups. PE firms, which have increased the number of acquisitions every single year for the past half-decade, are on pace to smash the full-year record of 680 PE transactions announced last year. Meanwhile, US-listed acquirers are almost certain to see a second consecutive decline in M&A activity, with the full-year 2017 number tracking to almost 20% below the totals of 2014 and 2015.

The dramatic shift in the tech industry’s buyers of record has been brought about by changes in both acquiring groups. PE shops have never held more capital than they currently hold, which means they need to find markets where they can put that to work. (The tech industry, which is aging but still growing, offers bountiful shopping opportunities.) Cash-rich buyout firms, which are built to transact, have simply taken the playbook they have used on their shopping trips through other markets such as manufacturing and retail, among others, and applied it to the technology industry.

In contrast to the ever-increasing number of PE shops and their ever-increasing buying power, the number of tech companies on the Nasdaq and NYSE has been dropping for years. (Indeed, the overall number of US traded companies has been declining for years, with some estimates putting the current count of listings at just half the number it was 20 years ago.) For instance, some 38 tech vendors have already been erased from the two US stock exchanges so far in 2017, according to the M&A KnowledgeBase.

Yet even those companies that still trade on the exchanges aren’t doing deals at the same rate they once did. In years past, some of the big-cap buyers — the ones that used to set the tone in the tech M&A market — would announce a deal every month or so. Now, public companies have slowed their pace, and PE firms have simply sprinted around them in the market.

Consider this tally, drawn from the M&A KnowledgeBase, of activity last month by the two respective groups. On the lengthy list of tech giants that didn’t put up a single print at all in July: Oracle, Microsoft, IBM, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Salesforce and SAP. Meanwhile, financial acquirers went on a shopping spree. H.I.G. Capital, Francisco Partners, Clearlake Capital and Thoma Bravo (among other PE shops) all inked at least two prints last month.

PE shops make the market for tech M&A in July

Contact: Brenon Daly

Spending on tech deals in July hit its second-highest monthly total so far this year, driven by the widespread dealmaking of private equity (PE) firms. Buyout shops figured into eight of last month’s 10 largest acquisitions, either as a seller or a buyer. The big-dollar prints by financial acquirers in July continue the recent surge of unprecedented activity by PE firms, which have largely displaced corporate buyers as the ‘market makers’ for tech M&A.

Overall, the value of tech transactions announced around the globe in July hit $28.9bn, roughly one-quarter more than the average month in the first half of the year, according to 451 Research’s M&A KnowledgeBase. Our research shows that PE firms accounted for some 40 cents of every dollar spent on tech deals last month — two to three times higher than the market share financial buyers held in recent years. Further, unlike the previous PE boom in the middle of the past decade that was dominated by single blockbuster transactions, the current record activity is coming from virtually all deal types.

Just in July, we saw financial acquirers announce transactions ranging from multibillion-dollar take-privates (the KKR-backed purchase of WebMD) to ‘synergy-based’ midmarket consolidation (Francisco Partners’ Procera Networks won a bidding war with another buyout shop to land Sandvine) to early-stage technology tuck-ins (Vista Equity Partners’ TIBCO scooping up one-year-old nanoscale.io). Overall, according to the M&A KnowledgeBase, PE firms announced a staggering 77 deals last month. That brought the year-to-date total to 511 PE transactions in the first seven months of 2017 — setting this year on pace to smash the full-year record of 680 PE deals recorded last year.

More broadly, last month featured a fair amount of old-line M&A, whether it was buyout firms trading companies among themselves (Syncsort) or mature tech industries consolidating (Mitel Networks reaching for ShoreTel or serial acquirer OpenText picking up Guidance Software, for instance). Those drivers put pressure on valuations paid at the top end of the market last month. According to the M&A KnowledgeBase, acquirers in July’s 15 largest deals paid just 2.4x trailing sales. Not one of last month’s 15 blockbusters got a double-digit valuation, although subscription-based ERP software startup Intacct came very close. For comparison, fully five of the 15 largest transactions in the first six months of 2017 went off at double-digit valuations.

For PE, secondaries become primary

Contact: Brenon Daly

In many ways, the tech buyout barons have themselves to thank for the record run of private equity (PE) activity so far in 2017. The number of so-called ‘secondary transactions,’ in which financial acquirers sell their portfolio companies to fellow financial buyers, has increased for three consecutive years, according to 451 Research’s M&A KnowledgeBase. The pace of PE-to-PE deals has accelerated even more this year, with an unprecedented 64 secondary transactions already in 2017 — more than twice the average number in the comparable period over the past half-decade.

The fact that secondaries have become primary for PE shops represents a fairly noteworthy change in both the buyout shops and their backers, the big-money limited partners (LPs) of the funds. In years past, LPs have frowned on the practice because, in some cases, they might be investors in both the PE funds that are doing the buying as well as the ones doing the selling, which doesn’t really reduce their risk in that particular holding — nor do they truly exit that investment. The practice has been criticized by some for being little more than buyout shops trading paper among themselves.

For that reason and others, our M&A KnowledgeBase indicates that the number of PE-to-PE deals in the first half of the years from 2002-10, when the tech PE industry was relatively immature, averaged only in the mid-single digits. In others words, PE shops are currently doing 10 times more secondary transactions than they did in the first decade of the millennium. Recent tech deals that have seen financial buyers on both sides include Insight Venture Partners’ sale of SmartBear Software to Francisco Partners after a decade of ownership, TA Associates’ sale of Idera to HGGC, and Summit Partners’ sale of most of Continuum Managed Services to Thoma Bravo.

These types of transactions appear likely to remain the exit of choice for PE shops, as both the number of funds and the dollars available to them continue to surge to new highs. The increasing buying power of buyout firms stands in contrast to the diminished exits provided elsewhere for portfolio holdings. The tech IPO market has never provided much liquidity to PE shops. (For instance, neither Thoma Bravo nor Vista Equity Partners has seen any of their tech holdings make it public.) Meanwhile, corporate acquirers — the chief rival to financial buyers — have dialed back their overall M&A programs, and in some cases have found themselves outbid or outsprinted in PE-owned deals by ultra-aggressive buyout shops.

Private equity’s latest venture 

Contact: Scott Denne

The bulging coffers of buyout funds are delivering a record amount of exits to venture capitalists, providing some measure of relief as strategic acquirers scale back dealmaking and the IPO market remains a selective venue. Yet relying on a different category of buyers could have venture investors rethinking how to value the products – startups – they sell to them.

So far this year, private equity (PE) firms have spent $4.8bn on 40 companies that have taken venture money. That nearly matches last year’s record dollar total ($5.2bn), according to 451 Research’s M&A KnowledgeBase, and is on track to pass the number of such deals in 2016.

Returns from both PE shops and strategic acquirers range from prodigious to paltry, although usually at vastly different multiples on the high end of the market. Take the two largest VC exits this year, Cisco’s $3.7bn acquisition of AppDynamics and PetSmart owner BC Partners’ purchase of Chewy for an estimated $3.4bn. Both delivered outsized returns, but Chewy went off at nearly 4x trailing revenue, which is above market for an e-commerce transaction although not in the same neighborhood as the 17.4x AppDynamics garnered.

In AppDynamics, Cisco is gambling that the application performance management vendor will mature into that lofty price. PE firms are less inclined to make such a wager. While PE shops are buying venture-backed companies – they account for a record 14% of venture exits so far this year – they’re looking for proof, not potential. Those tougher standards could start to trickle down to valuations in venture fundings as PE firms determine a larger share of the outcomes.

For more real-time information on tech M&A, follow us on Twitter @451TechMnA.

Xactly exits

Contact: Brenon Daly

Two years after coming public, Xactly is headed private in a $564m buyout by Vista Equity Partners. The deal values shares of the sales compensation management vendor at nearly their highest-ever level, roughly twice the price at which Xactly sold them during its IPO. According to terms, Vista will pay $15.65 for each share of Xactly.

Xactly’s exit from Wall Street comes after a decidedly mixed run as a small-cap company. For the first year after its IPO, the stock struggled to gain much attention from investors. Shares lingered around their offer price, underperforming the market and, more notably, lagging the performance of direct rival Callidus Software. However, in the past year, as Xactly has posted solid mid-20% revenue growth, it gained some favor back on Wall Street. In the end, Vista is paying slightly more than 5x trailing sales for Xactly.

The valuation Vista is paying for Xactly offers an illuminating contrast to Callidus, which has pursued a much different strategy than Xactly. Although both companies got their start offering software to help businesses manage sales incentives, the much-older and much-larger Callidus has used a series of small acquisitions to expand into other areas of enterprise software, notably applications for various aspects of human resources and marketing automation. According to 451 Research’s M&A KnowledgeBase, Callidus has done seven small purchases since the start of 2014. For its part, Xactly has only bought one company in its history, the 2009 consolidation of rival Centive that essentially kept it in its existing market.

Although Xactly is getting a solid valuation in the proposed take-private, it’s worth noting that Callidus – at least partly due to its steady use of M&A – enjoys a premium to its younger rival with a narrower product portfolio. Even without any acquisition premium, Callidus trades at about 7x trailing sales. Callidus is roughly twice as big as Xactly, but has a market value that’s three times larger.

For more real-time information on tech M&A, follow us on Twitter @451TechMnA.

Dealing with the dragon

Contact: Brenon Daly

A little more than a year after a Chinese consortium acquired slumping printer maker Lexmark, the group has sold off the company’s software business to Thoma Bravo. The enterprise software unit had basically been for sale since the Chinese buyout group, which is led by a hardware-focused firm, closed its $2.5bn take-private of Lexmark. Although terms of the sale of the software division weren’t formally released, media reports put the price at $1.5bn.

Assuming that price is more or less accurate (we haven’t been able to independently verify it), the deal would stand as the largest inbound acquisition of a Chinese technology asset, according to 451 Research’s M&A KnowledgeBase. Obviously, there have been larger transactions involving Chinese targets. But all 16 of those deals listed in our M&A KnowledgeBase have seen fellow Chinese companies as the buyer. Overall, our data indicates that slightly more than half of all China-based tech vendors sell to Chinese acquirers, although the top end of the market is unanimously weighted toward domestic transactions.

Clearly, although owned by a Chinese group, the Lexmark software division is hardly a ‘Chinese company,’ in the sense of a domestically headquartered operation that does the majority of business in its home market. Lexmark had cobbled together its software unit from roughly a dozen acquisitions of enterprise software providers based in North America and Europe. (451 Research will have a full report later today on how the acquired software business will fit into Thoma Bravo’s portfolio and what impact the deal will have on the broader business process and content management markets.)

Nonetheless, this landmark transaction comes at a difficult time in US-Sino relationships. President Donald Trump has blasted the currency and trade policies of China, although he did tone down his criticism during last month’s meeting with his counterpart, Xi Jinping. Despite the apparent thaw, the relationship between the world’s two largest economies remains chilly. That’s having an impact on M&A, which is a form of ‘international trade’ of its own. In a survey last month of 150 tech M&A professionals, more than half of the respondents (55%) predicted that US acquisitions of Chinese companies would decline because of President Trump’s trade policies. Just 7% forecast an uptick, according to the M&A Leaders’ Survey from 451 Research and Morrison & Foerster.

For a more in-depth look at the trends and concerns around doing deals in China, be sure to join our webinar, ‘The State of Tech M&A in China,’ on May 17 at 1:00pm EST. The webinar is open to everyone, and you can register here.


Jive talk leads to a deal

ContactBrenon Daly

Privately held software consolidator ESW Capital has continued its sweep through the ever-maturing business software market, paying a bargain price for faded enterprise communications vendor Jive Software. ESW, which serves as the family office of Trilogy Software founder Joe Liemandt, has notched more than 50 software acquisitions, mostly over the past decade. It typically acquires old-line software companies that, for one reason or another, find themselves out of step with their respective markets.

That’s certainly a description that could be applied to Jive, which was founded in 2001 and enjoyed a few bountiful days after its 2011 IPO, but has more recently found itself a bit of an orphan on Wall Street. It went public at $12 and shortly after the offering shares ran into the mid-$20s. However, the stock hasn’t been in the double digits for more than three years. As shares slumped, perhaps inevitably, acquisition rumors began surfacing around the company, with SAP and existing Jive partner Cisco named as potential buyers. (At that time, boutique bank Qatalyst Partners was rumored to be running the process. In the actual sale to ESW, Morgan Stanley, which led Jive’s 2011 IPO, is getting the print. On the other side, Atlas Technology Group advised ESW.)

Investors impatiently waited through several shifts in strategy at Jive, but recent moves hadn’t produced much growth at the company: Jive was a single-digit-percentage grower in both 2015 and 2016, while its customer count actually ticked slightly lower during that period. On the bottom line, Jive has always run in the red, although on the other side of last year’s restructuring, it has posted positive operating income.

Still, Jive’s struggles are reflected in ESW’s take-private offer. Terms call for the buyout firm to pay $5.25 for each of Jive’s roughly 79 million shares outstanding, for an announced equity value of $462m and an enterprise value of slightly more than $350m. Jive put up $204m in revenue, meaning it is being valued at just 1.7 times trailing sales in the deal, which is expected to close next month. That’s below any of the multiples paid by PE shops in erasing software vendors from US exchanges over the past year. According to 451 Research’s M&A KnowledgeBase, multiples paid in software take-privates since May 2016 have ranged from 2.3-7.9x trailing sales.

For more real-time information on tech M&A, follow us on Twitter @451TechMnA.