Picking off the slow-movers: $15bn for tech PE now sloshing around at Silverlake, more to come

Silver Lake plans to announce on Tuesday that it has closed its fifth buyout fund at $15 billion, one of the biggest ever dedicated to technology deals. That exceeds the $12.5 billion fund-raising target that the firm had previously aimed for and brings the firm’s total assets and committed capital to about $39 billion.

They seem to get good returns:

Silver Lake’s fourth fund, with $10.5 billion under management, currently boasts returns of nearly 31 percent, according to the data provider PitchBook.

Meanwhile, as Dan Primack mentioned, you can expect $100bn from SoftBank.

What this means is that more older, lower growth software companies will be taken private. More than likely, their day-to-day operations will be optimized to get their cash-flow fixed up and increase profits. These companies can then act as cash machines and find some exit after the PE owners “fix” management and operations problems at the company.

That usually means consolidation, which results in firing people, but also fixing stubborn “frozen middle” problems that have preventing each product line from evolving and getting a better ongoing product/market for, meaning: being something that customers want to use and keep buying. There can also just be a lot of “bloat” in older product lines, esp. when it comes to effective product management, marketing, and developers following old, slow, but comfortable processes.

And, sometimes, as you see at IBM, you just have to shut down old business in favor of building new ones. This means a top-line revenue hit, which means slowing or killing quarterly growth. As IBM has been demonstrating for 20 quarters, when you’re public, ain’t nobody got time for that. In theory, when private, you can choose that option.

As Brenon at 451 has noted, going private deals like these are growing much more than “corporate” acquisitions (like when Microsoft, Cisco, IBM, etc. buy a company to integrate into their product portfolio rather than optimize the company as discussed here). It doesn’t always work, but that “nearly 30%” return indicates that it works more than enough.

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Final prices for Dell Services and Software divestitures: $3bn & $2.4bn

On March 27, 2016, Dell entered into a definitive agreement with NTT Data International L.L.C. to sell substantially all of Dell Services for cash consideration of approximately $3.0 billion. On June 19, 2016, Dell entered into a definitive agreement with Francisco Partners and Elliot Management Corporation to sell substantially all of Dell Software Group for cash consideration of approximately $2.4 billion.

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Living life one quarter at a time, maybe it’s fine

Tyler Cowen suggests that we shouldn’t be freaked out by the emphasis on quarterly returns. Many public companies companies blame making quarterly numbers as a reason for short term planning, versus long term (one assumes) innovative strategies. The pieces suggests that that short sightedness may have a reason:

In information technology, the average life of a corporate asset is about six years, in health care it is about 11 years, and for consumer products it runs about 12 to 15. Very often it is hard for a company to plan its operations beyond those time periods, as the U.S. economy is no longer based on durable manufacturing machines. Production has shifted toward service sectors with relatively short asset lives, and that may call for a shorter-term orientation in response.

And, throw in all the “change or die”, digital transformation stuff and who knows what tomorrow will look like? As a counter, re-jiggering a company to be “digital” can take time. But, as Coleen suggests, investors don’t always seems to punish that (I’d add, if they have faith in management and the culture of the company):

Equity markets do not seem to neglect the longer run. Amazon has a high share price even though its earnings reports have usually failed to show a profit. Possibly the market judgment is wrong, but it’s hardly the case that investors are ignoring the long-run prospects of the company.

Further more, if I doesn’t work out:

If public shareholders are placing too much short-term pressure on their companies for a good quarterly earnings report, companies have the option of boosting their value by going private, as has been the trend. By 2012, the number of U.S. public corporations was less than half what it had been in 1997, in part because many companies went private. This is possible evidence that there have been problems with corporate short-termism, but on the other hand it shows that a market response is possible. Good governance is a scarce resource, and it may be that markets concentrate it in the places that need it most.

Source: Is corporate thinking too short-term?