Subba’s Serendipitous moments

September 23, 2009

Dell seeks growth in Perot Systems

Dell made a surprise announcement to acquire Perot systems for close to $4 billion. Perot Systems in a IT services firms, predominantly US centric with government and the health care verticals accounting for over 70% of its revenues. By acquiring Perot Systems, Dell is just trying to follow the footsteps of IBM and HP by being a player in the IT services organization.

In my view, this is not a great step for Dell and I am disappointed. Here are the pros and cons:

Vertical presence: Perot Systems may have a great presence in the U.S. government and healthcare but outside of these verticals and outside U.S. it is a very marginal player. The healthcare sector may see some headwind thanks to the impeding reforms but the healthcare sector has been slow to innovate and have less appetite for new IT technology and services.

Margins: First Perot Systems doesn’t have great margins; in fact its margins are lower than industry standards and the last 6 months the results have been disappointing. For the 6 months ending June 2009, Perot made $59 million on a sales of $1.3 billion, which translates to a net margin of just 4.5%. Last year Perot Systems earned $117 million on sales of $2.8 billion.

Synergy: It is likely that Dell’s plan is to use Perot Systems to undertake IT services within its enterprise customers. This looks tough, as both the organizations have a different sales/engagement model. There is no significant synergy, and no integration issues as well. Dell is a $60 billion business and the Perot IT services business is relatively insignificant.

Strategic fit: While the acquisition gives Dell a services outfit, it is unlikely to be a strong strategic fit. Dell’s competencies are in supply chain, direct marketing, agility to respond and being able to sell volume products. The services business is an entirely different kettle of fish and the verticals where Perot is strong — the government and the healthcare are not noted for being agile. How this acquisition could become the “anchor” acquisition for IT services is difficult for me to understand unless Dell is planning on a roll up strategy to acquire other IT services firms.

With this step Dell also seems to be going on a different path. All trends and figures indicate that Dell’s position is becoming difficult with new areas like cloud computing, SaaS and other developments. Dell needs to bolster its offerings in that space to contend with the likes of Cisco and IBM and the Oracle-Sun combination as all of them are beefing up their offerings on the server space.

A strong product focused organization with its unique DNA and specifically strong organization culture will have to contend with several hiccups to make sense of this acquisition. IBM, HP and other It services organizations are unlikely to be impacted.

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April 20, 2009

Oracle acquires Sun — Unexpected and interesting

Oracle announced that it is going to acquire Sun for $9.50 in cash valuing Sun at about $7.5 billion or $5.6 billion net of Sun’s cash and debt.

The deal comes after talks between IBM and Sun failed. I had analyzed why the IBM may not really need Sun here and here. IBM had offered $9.40 per share. Oracle’s offer is a 40% premium over Sun’s closing price.

However this acquisition by Oracle is both unexpected and very interesting. Sun’s software assets could become better strategic assets to Oracle than Sun’s server or storage business. After Sun acquired MySQL , the relationship between Oracle and Sun had soured. Oracle had acquired Innobase to neutralize MySQL but it hadn’t made much headway. Of course Java could become the pivot of Oracle’s middleware strategy.

The open source database angle becomes interesting. Having MySQL in its stable gives Oracle access to its huge developer base and web applications market. Will Oracle kill MySQL to protect the Oracle 11g cloud margins or milk it for whatever it is worth before allowing it to die in neglect will be interesting to watch.

Sun has a large installed base and becomes an immediate target market for Oracle to target with its applications.

Since Sun’s manufacturing is already outsourced, there’s nothing much left for Oracle to do. It can sell whatever is left in the hardware business — the storage, server and any other chip business to either HP or Dell.

Oracle now fine tunes the database performance on Solaris and sells a combo. HP and others will feel the impact.

Oracle gets the scale and muscle to attack IBM.

On the overall, there seems to be a better strategic fit between Oracle and Sun, than Oracle and IBM. Both companies also have a strong feisty culture and hyper competitive spirits so integrating them could be easier.

What is also interesting is that Sun’s board approved the deal quickly and unanimously after just scoffing IBM’s deal which was just 10 cents less per share.

April 15, 2009

Satyam clearly overvalued

Subsequent to my earlier post where I mentioned that Tech Mahindra seems to have over paid for Satyam, got an email from an ex-Satyam employee(who prefers to remain anonymous) He mentions that Satyam’s annual revenues are more likely to be between $1.3 – $1.5 billion.

If that be the case, then Tech Mahindra has valued Satyam at a revenue multiple of 1X revenues which is quite high by industry standards in the current environment. Even Accenture a blue chip with impeccable credentials is only quoted at 0.7X revenues.

So, it indeed looks that Tech Mahindra has over valued Satyam.

It is also intriguing that since the beginning there were no serious contenders for this business — be it from US or Europe multinationals or even from Indian IT service providers. L&T which was considered the favorite to win was only trying to reduce their average buying price since they had acquired 12% of Satyam for a high price in the past.

April 14, 2009

Tech Mahindra gets Satyam — Pays more, interesting challenges ahead

Satyam Computer Services ranked as India’s 4th largest outsourcer by revenues (after Infosys, TCS ,Wipro) and which went through some very anxious times following the scandal brought about by its founder has found a new owner.

After a bidding war where only 3 parties participated (Larsen & Toubro, Tech Mahindra and US investor Wilbur Ross), the prize has gone to Tech Mahindra.

Tech Mahindra offer of Rs. 58 per share (U.S $1.16) was 21% higher than the next bidder (Larsen And Toubro who already own a 12% stake) The offer price is also 23% higher than its highest traded price since the news of the scam broke out in early January.

Since the auditors Deloitte and KPMG are in the process of rewriting the accounts it is difficult to value the company. But based on a number of sources, Satyam’s annual revenues are in the range of $1.5 billion -$1.7 billion (down from projected revenues of $2.1 billion for 2008) with an operating margin of 3% while Tech Mahindra’s margins are in the range of 22% with revenues of $900 million. No one knows the extent of liabilities and also the exposure of the firm to some of the class action suits that’s likely to follow in the US.

Hence at the acquisition price, Tech Mahindra has paid a big premium and also brought some big challenges just to add $ 1.2 billion and a 3% margin business. Did Tech Mahindra over value Satyam? I certainly think so.

But as they say Value lies in the eyes of the beholder!

Tech Mahindra will have some big challenges not only in funding the acquisition but also running the Satyam operation. It is one thing to run a business where one client (British Telecom holding a 31% share) accounts for close to 70% of the business and another to deal with a diversified client base with poor operational efficiencies. Tech Mahindra will also have to learn to manage a work force almost twice its own size and dispersed globally.

Tech Mahindra will also have to figure out whether they want to keep this as an independent entity with a different name or do a possible merger. I think the advantages to be gained by an immediate merger may be limited in the short term since there are no synergies to be realized.

None of these challenges are easy. It would be interesting to watch the turnaround.

Satyam caretakers — the interim Board members like Karnik, Deepak Parekh and others did a great job transitioning it from a broken and rudderless ship to finding a good caretaker and owner. The entire Indian IT industry also played a mature role in not poaching Satyam’s clients or its employees.

April 6, 2009

IBM — Sun deal fails?

Filed under: Business,Competition,Model — Subbaraman Iyer @ 11:35 am
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IBM withdrew its $7 billion offer for Sun reports the NY Times which reports that Sun believed the offer was too low and the offer was rejected by the Sun Board. The Wall Street however is not so categorical about the rejection and believes the deal will go through.

I wrote earlier that IBM doesn’t need Sun. It is Sun that needs IBM. Sun has been in the market for a long time courting probable suitors.

The failure of the deal will hurt Sun more than anyone. Customers will be wary of purchasing Sun gear. Moreover the management will be questioned about their commitment to a go-it-alone strategy. Hence Sun may accept the lower price offered by IBM. Sun doesn’t have much choices left.

My assessment is that Sun’s problems may actually worsen after the failure of the talks. IBM comes out unscathed.

March 19, 2009

Does IBM need Sun?

Filed under: Business,Competition — Subbaraman Iyer @ 8:49 pm
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No sooner had I finished posting my blog post on Cisco’s Unified Computing strategy and its implications, I saw that IBM is in talks to acquire Sun for $6.5 billion.  Sun has over $2.5 billion in cash, so the entire Sun business is valued at $4 billion.

I had expected a spate of acquisitions to happen, but not so soon. Not IBM acquiring Sun. My take was that it would be either EMC or Dell or HP acquiring Sun.

Here’s my analysis assuming that the news is for real and that it is not one of those rumor balloons:

  1. IBM gets more share in a shrinking UNIX server market. IBM is already doing a good job with Linux (IBM’s overall market server market share is 31%) and doesn’t need the extra 10% market share coming from Sun. I have already said here that with Cisco entering the server space the already low margins could even get lower. So, IBM with a server margin (around 10%) buying Sun for just the servers doesn’t make compelling logic.

  2. Maybe IBM is eyeing Sun’s MySQL database! It makes sense, but IBM has its own DB2 and it also has Informix. So, adding MySQL to their product portfolio makes limited sense.

  3. Java may be the crown jewel in Sun’s assets, but it hasn’t made money for Sun. I wonder how IBM will make it sing.

  4. The rest of Sun’s products —  storage, SOA stack, professional services none of them are compelling enough.

  5. No compelling next generation chip architectures from Sun.

Clearly there’s little strategic fit from a technology standpoint or from a marketing standpoint for IBM to acquire Sun.

Maybe there are some new initiatives from Sun in the cloud computing space. But Sun has not been investing in any kind of cutting edge architecture for a long time.

One possible reason for this rumor balloon to gain credence is that this move could thwart other vendors like HP, Dell or  a Cisco to acquire Sun. It doesn’t make any sense, because they could enter the bidding fray themselves. My own thinking is that a Dell or a Cisco may have a better fit with Sun’s products, channels and even culture.

Some analysts seem to believe that after acquiring Sun, IBM may sell the hardware and license the Solaris business to Fujitsu. This seems too far fetched to me.

Most importantly, Sun doesn’t offer any great networking product or technology — something that IBM needs to counter Cisco’s Unified Computing proposition.

So, I will be surprised if this deal goes through. But in the world of M&A, value perception is entirely different and a lot lies in the eyes of the beholder.

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September 29, 2008

The HCL bid for Axon

Filed under: Business,Competition — Subbaraman Iyer @ 9:41 pm
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As was reported here, HCL formally launched an acquisition bid for Axon by raising its bid by 8.3% over the Infosys bid. Infosys will now have the opportunity to increase the bid.

It is quite easy for Infosys to enter into the bidding war given that Infosys is sitting on a cash chest of $1.8 billion. HCL is already stretched because it has only $500 million in cash and this acquisition will be funded by raising debt. Given this debt funding, HCL’s net income will be diluted considerably. In fact, with all the offshoring advantage HCL  has, it is valued at about 12 times EBITDA. It is no wonder that HCL shares plunged by about 12% in a market which was already in a downward trend. Further, Morgan Stanley downgraded HCL from overweight to underweight keeping in view the acquisition risk.

Given that Infosys original offer was itself valuing Axon at 24 times EBITDA, this increased bid will make it even higher for a SAP consulting house. Despite the advantages of being in Europe and some of the intrinsic strengths of Axon, I think this may turn out to be an expensive buy for the eventual buyer — be it Infosys or HCL.

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September 9, 2008

HCL counters Infosys bid

Filed under: Business,Competition,India,Strategy — Subbaraman Iyer @ 6:29 pm
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I didn’t expect a bidding war over Axon.  I thought that it was a done deal. In my opinion, Infosys is already paying a big premium for Axon. Now, the Times of India reports that HCL Technologies is offering a 15% over and above the Infosys bid.

Between the two companies, Infosys at least has a better strategic fit and based on limited information that I know both Infosys and Axon have similar values. HCL Technologies may badly need this acquisition to bolster their presence in the SAP space, but given their management style, it is more likely that some cultural clashes could happen. Result — some of the star employees of Axon could just quit.

Will Infosys get into a bidding war?

It would be interesting to see who gets this expensive prize as Axon’s shareholders could still vote for Infosys bid, the higher price of HCL Technologies notwithstanding.

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August 29, 2008

Infosys acquires Axon

Filed under: Business,Strategy — Subbaraman Iyer @ 12:14 am
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Infosys made another acquisition and this time the size of the acquisition was reasonably big. Infosys acquired Axon which is a listed company in the UK.

Infosys paid US$753.1 million in an all cash deal. The surprising thing about this acquisition is that Axon is just another SAP consulting firm though their revenues have grown quite nicely in the last few years based on the financials here.

I wonder what’s the strategic intent of this acquisition made at a P/E of 20 in a kind of slowing economy. Is it because Infosys needs a stronger presence in UK, where Axon has close to 1400 employees? Is Infosys strategy to move work to India and improve margins?

Shouldn’t Infosys make a more bigger acquisition in an emerging area?

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May 13, 2008

HP acquiring EDS — Mark’s new challenges

Filed under: Business,Competition,Model,Strategy — Subbaraman Iyer @ 2:19 pm
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Just saw the news that Hewlett Packard is in talks to acquire EDS. The announcement is here.

This may be Mark Hurd’s biggest and risky bet to carve out a bigger space in the IT services market. As anyone can see, Mark will face 2 key challenges with this acquisition. Unlike the earlier acquisitions, this one is a big move and hence there is the imminent integration challenge between these 2 companies with different cultures. Given that EDS has a higher market share and also been in the IT services business longer than HP, they are unlikely to submit to the HP model easily. Till date HP has shown distinct conservatism in the services market, by just managing the infrastructure around its own product platforms where as EDS has been more of a risk taker given its background and history. It also has done more higher-end work like complex application design. So, who would call the shots — HP as the acquirer or as EDS with a big client list and a track record of delivering higher value services? We just have to see how this unfolds.

Second, Mark has to transition the combined entity to the right cost structure by shifting significant resources to a low cost countries like India. At least in India both EDS and HP have operations and their merger may not create much problems.

I believe the only way to amount the challenge to IBM would be to set this up as an independent business operation and go after the high margin business. It is only then that the acquisition makes sense. Whether IBM gets affected or not, I can see this impacting Accenture, Cap Gemini and a few others feeling the pressure.

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