Software Sector: Getting a Sense of M&A Market's Health

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Includes: DVMT, MFE, TRI
by: 451 Research: Inorganic Growth

By Brenon Daly

To get a sense of the relative health of the overall M&A market, it’s often more revealing to look at a specific sector and chart the valuation fluctuations over time. Take the highly visible – and rapidly consolidating – market for governance, risk and compliance (GRC) software. (Or, as my colleague Paul Roberts would have it: GRC stands for governance, risk and consolidation.) Since GRC straddles a number of technology areas (security, BI, performance and policy management, and others), it’s natural that we’ve seen a steady flow of deals across this sector. (We highlighted that in a report last spring where we offered our own (admittedly weak) take on the GRC acronym: ‘Get Ready for Consolidation.’)

Conveniently enough, we’ve seen a number of GRC deals inked recently that encapsulate the state of the broader space. (This isn’t meant to be a comprehensive tally of deal flow in the sector, but rather a selection of illustrative transactions.) Back when the markets were soaring in 2006, SAP paid an estimated 10 times trailing sales for Virsa Systems. By late 2007, the multiple that Sun Microsystems (JAVA) paid for Vaau had come down to an estimated 7x trailing sales. (Incidentally, Sun announced that purchase right as the Nasdaq, which had been at its highest level since early 2001, began a protracted slide that ultimately cut the index by more than half. It still hasn’t recovered to the level of November 2007.)

A year later, the multiple had been cut in half, with Thomson Reuters (NYSE:TRI) paying an estimated 3x trailing sales for Paisley. The upheaval in the early part of last year put even more pressure on valuations, with McAfee (MFE) paying just 2.5x trailing sales for Solidcore Systems. And then on Monday, EMC announced that it was making its own GRC play, reaching for industry veteran Archer Technologies. While terms weren’t disclosed, we’re pretty confident that Archer’s valuation rebounded from the level that Solidcore got just six months ago. We understand that Archer finished last year with about $32m in sales, and would guess that it sold for much more than $100m, much richer than the multiple Paisley got a year ago.