- Valuations have fallen so much that “private-equity firms are licking their chops,” one VC said.
- Dealmaking has been slow, but bankers expect it to pick up in fall as PE firms eye bargains.
- Cyndx, a market-research firm, provided Insider with data on the most likely tech LBO targets.
It has been a bruising year for tech companies, with billions in market value erased as stocks plunged by as much as 80%.
The market’s worst first half for a year in more than 50 years is not bad news for everyone. It presents a once-in-a-generation opportunity for private-equity firms to snap up profitable, fast-growing companies at bargain-basement prices.
“Private-equity firms are licking their chops,” said one venture investor who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly. “It’s staggering how much market caps have come down.”
Or as Morgan Stanley analysts put it more dryly last month: “The dislocation presents good opportunities to put capital to work once seller expectations adjust and markets stabilize.”
In April, Thoma Bravo, an active private-equity firm in tech, acquired SailPoint, an enterprise-security-software company, for about $6.9 billion. Last month, Thoma Bravo closed a $10.7 billion deal to buy Anaplan, a business-planning-software company. Zendesk, which offers customer-service software online, was taken private for $10.2 billion by an investor group led by Permira and Hellman & Friedman.
As a whole, though, most private-equity investors have been sitting on the sidelines as interest rates rise and board members hold out hope that their stock prices will recover. This year, there have been only 478 buyouts in the US involving a private-equity firm, down from 1,103 in the same period of 2021, according to Dealogic.
But bankers do not expect the lull to last as companies and board members come to grips with lower valuations and private-equity dealmakers grow more eager to deploy their $2.5 trillion of cash before markets rebound. Francisco Partners, another leading tech-buyout firm, recently raised more than $16 billion for two new funds.
“Private-equity firms will want to really engage in the fall,” said James McVeigh, a longtime investment banker and the founder and CEO of Cyndx, a market-research firm. “They’re doing their screenings now to know who they want target. If they wait and go into next year, the risk is prices move away from them.”
So which companies are private-equity firms eyeing?
Cyndx provided Insider with data on likely targets, based on criteria bankers and buyout firms consider the most important:
- Dependable revenue. Private-equity firms require a steady cash flow to pay down debt, which excludes many kinds of tech companies that have more volatile income streams. One big exception is software-as-a-service companies that have subscriptions and other long-term contracts with customers who rely on them to run their businesses, even in a recession.
- A market capitalization between $1 billion and $10 billion. There are some bigger leveraged-buyout deals — like Twitter’s, if that ever closes — but the average private-equity deal was $1.1 billion last year, according to Bain & Co.
- A stock price down more than 30% in 2022. This one is not hard to find, with the Nasdaq down about 20% this year and many SaaS providers down much more than that.
- Earnings expected next year. If PE firms are preparing to layer on more debt, companies have to generate profits and use that cash to pay off the loans.
Here are the 37 contenders, ranked by the lowest enterprise-value-to-EBITDA ratio as of July 14. A company’s enterprise value includes its market capitalization, debt, and any cash on the balance sheet. EBITDA is earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization, a common measure of profitability. (An EV/EBITDA value below 10 is commonly interpreted as healthy, though tech companies often have much higher ratios because investors are willing to pay more for growth.)
Founded in 1969, LiveRamp is used by companies to better manage and analyze their data. LiveRamp’s stock is trading at about one-third of where it was last year, and its market capitalization has fallen below $2 billion. With a strong roster of clients such as Google, Wall Street still sees 21% revenue growth, and the company has the lowest projected EV/EBITDA ratio on our list of just 9.1%, with zero debt and more than $600 million in cash, according to Cyndx data.
Alight Solutions, which offers business-process outsourcing, went public last year, and its stock now trades at a record low, 23% below where it debuted. Revenue growth is estimated at 7.8%, but its balance sheet is enviable, with $326 million in cash on hand against less than $3 million in debt.
Chegg, which rents textbooks to students and provides online tutoring, erased more than four years of stock-market gains and now has a market capitalization of just over $2.3 billion. Chegg’s business is relatively recession-proof since students always need textbooks and renting is cheaper than buying. The company carries just about $160 million in debt with $110 million in cash on hand.
E2open Parent Holdings
E2open is an Austin provider of cloud-based software to manage global supply chains. It’s trading at less than half of its 52-week high, giving it a market capitalization of less than $2 billion. The company is expected to generate 10.1% revenue growth and carries just over $100 million in debt with $156 million in cash on its books.
Formerly known as SurveyMonkey, Momentive offers companies insights on their brand and market trends. Its stock has plunged nearly 60% this year and now trades more than 40% lower than when it debuted in 2018, giving it a market capitalization of $1.3 billion. Still, sales growth is estimated at close to 15%, and the company carries $186 million in debt, with $239 million in cash. Zendesk tried to buy Momentive earlier this year. That deal failed, and Zendesk sold itself instead.
Zuora is a subscription-management solution that has long been the target of takeover speculation, and it’s getting cheaper by the day. Since going public in 2018, Zuora stock has plummeted nearly 60%, and its down about 50% this year. Most attractive for buyers: The company is expected to generate 22% revenue growth and has more than twice as much cash on hand as debt.
EverCommerce’s first year as a public company has been a rough one, with the stock down more than 40% since its debut last July. It has a durable and growing business, providing software-as-a-service solutions to half a million small and medium-size companies. It’s carrying more than half a billion dollars in debt, but Wall Street analysts are projecting nearly 17% revenue growth.
Wix, a Squarespace competitor providing services to entrepreneurs and microbusinesses for no-code cloud-based web development, has seen its stock plunge more than 60% this year. Wix has strong retention rates and a revenue growth rate of 16.3%, according to Cyndx data. It has slightly more cash on hand ($1.2 billion) than debt ($923 million).
RingCentral is similar to Zoom, except it focuses on audio, providing a cloud-based business-phone system that delivers team messages, videoconferences, and phone calls. Both companies have had their shares battered in the past year, with RingCentral’s stock down about 80%, giving it a market capitalization of just over $5 billion. Most intriguing for would-be acquirers: Analysts see RingCentral generating revenue growth of close to 24%.
Vertex, which makes tax-compliance software for businesses, has seen its market capitalization chopped in half since it went public in 2020. Its customer base is sticky — companies have to pay taxes, recession or not — and Vertex’s sales growth is expected to exceed 13%.
In a crowded cloud-infrastructure market dominated by giants like Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure, DigitalOcean tries to distinguish itself as a more focused and easier-to-use alternative. Its market capitalization has been cut in half this year, and it now trades below last year’s IPO price. Despite spending little on marketing, DigitalOcean brought in $318.4 million in revenue last year and is projected to grow sales over the next year by more than 31%.
Permira and Canada’s government-pension fund took Informatica, an enterprise cloud-data-management platform, private in 2015. The company went public again late last year, and with its stock price nearly cut in half this year, it could be primed to go private yet again. The company brought in $1.44 billion in revenue last year, up 9% from 2020. In the next year, it’s forecast to grow sales by 12.8%.
Cvent provides software for event management, marketing, and attendee engagement. It first went public in 2013, raising $135 million. Three years later, it was taken private by Vista Equity Partners for $1.65 billion, and it went public again late last year, this time via a special-purpose acquisition company. Since then, its stock has fallen by more than 40%. Perhaps soon, it will be a private company for a third time.
Calix offers cloud-software systems to communications-service providers. It went public via a SPAC last year, in a transaction giving it a $5.3 billion enterprise value, but now has an enterprise value of just $2.4 billion. The company has a strong balance sheet with no debt and $213 million in cash, according to Cyndx data.
Expensify makes a popular cloud-software service for employees to track and report expenses. It went public late last year, but the stock has plummeted about 60% since then, and the company now has a market capitalization of just over $1.5 billion. Wall Street sees revenue growth of about 30%, and the Bank of America analyst Koji Ikeda recently upgraded the stock, praising its “lean business model” with just 140 employees, which he said would help the company “pivot quickly from higher rev growth to higher EBITDA margins.”
Everbridge, which offers applications for personal safety and business continuity, has seen its stock nosedive about 80% in the past year. The company brought in $368.4 million in revenue last year, and that is projected to grow 16.2% in the next year. Meanwhile, its enterprise value stands at just $1.4 billion.
Pegasystems, which develops software for customer-relationship management and business-process management, has seen its stock plummet by about 60% in the past year. It has an enterprise value of $4.2 billion, despite the fact it brought in $1.2 billion in revenue last year. Analysts estimate revenue growth of close to 20% in the next year.
Engineers, architects, and contractors use Bentley’s software to design and manage massive infrastructure projects like roadways, bridges, and airports. The stock is down about 40% in the past year despite President Joe Biden signing a massive $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill into law in November. Bentley is expected to generate 10.1% revenue growth.
As companies look to cut costs by employing fewer customer-service workers, they could turn to providers like LivePerson to fill the gap. The company develops conversational-commerce and artificial-intelligence software that helps consumers communicate with brands. LivePerson’s stock is in dire need of help, down about 75% in the past year, giving it an enterprise value of $1.3 billion. Wall Street forecasts revenue growth of 17.1%.
Institutional investors use Clearwater’s software for reporting and reconciliation. The company’s stock has fallen by about 50% in the past year, but it is expected to grow sales by almost 20% and has $264 million in cash on hand against $54 million in debt.
Xero provides cloud-based accounting software for small and medium-size businesses. Its stock is down about 40% in the past year, but the company generated $848 million in 2021 revenue, and that is expected to grow by about 20% in the next year.
Altair offers software for simulation, high-performance computing, data analytics, and artificial intelligence. The company’s stock is down about 25% this year, but it has a strong balance sheet, with almost twice as much cash on hand as debt. It has an enterprise value of $4 billion despite bringing in over half a billion in sales last year.
Ceridian provides human-resources, payroll, benefits, workforce-management, and talent-management software. Its stock price has been chopped roughly in half this year, giving it an enterprise value of sixfold lower than next year’s forecast revenue.
Elastic helps companies quickly store, search, and analyze huge volumes of data in the cloud. Its stock is down nearly 45% in the past year, despite projected revenue growth of 35% and an enviable client roster that includes Netflix, Microsoft, Slack, and Uber.
Q2 offers digital-banking and -lending solutions to banks, credit unions, and fintech companies. Its stock has been nearly chopped in half this year, giving it an enterprise value of $2.5 billion. With projected 18.6% revenue growth, the company is trading at just 3.7 times next year’s estimated revenue.
Varonis is a cybersecurity platform that allows organizations to track and analyze data. Its stock price has been sliced in half over the past year, but the company has a solid balance sheet, with four times as much cash as debt. And Wall Street sees Varonis producing 22% revenue growth.
Five9 is a provider of cloud-based call-center software that over 2,000 clients use for sales, marketing, and customer service. Its market capitalization is about half of what it was a year ago, but analysts forecast 23.3% revenue growth.
EngageSmart, which provides customer-engagement software and integrated-payments solutions, has seen its stock drop about 45% in the past year, giving it an enterprise value of just $2.5 billion. The company has zero debt, with $256 million in cash, and is expected to generate almost 30% revenue growth in the next year.
The stock of Coupa, which provides a cloud platform for business-spend management, has plummeted about 70% in the past year. It’s now trading at just 5.1 times next year’s estimated revenue.
Duck Creek Technologies
Duck Creek provides back-end software for insurance companies. Since going public in 2020, the stock has erased about 60% of its value. Duck Creek’s enterprise value is now just $1.5 billion, less than five times next year’s forecast revenue. And it has zero debt, with $365 million in cash.
Sprinklr, which sells customer-experience-management software, went public last year, but its stock has almost been cut in half since then. The company has $531 million in cash, with zero debt, and is trading at less than three times next year’s projected earnings.
A competitor to SurveyMonkey, Qualtrics allows users to easily create surveys and generate reports. Since going public last year, its stock has fallen about 70%. It has $836 million in cash on hand, with zero debt, and is now trading at less than five times next year’s estimated revenue.
New Relic provides cloud-based software to help websites and app owners track performance. The stock is down about 40% this year and now trades at less than three times next year’s projected sales.
A cybersecurity company providing security data and analytics, Rapid7 has seen its stock fall about 40% this year. It has a high debt-to-cash ratio but is expected to grow sales by 22% and trading at about six times its projected revenue.
Olo has slid about 60% from when it debuted on the New York Stock Exchange last year. The company, which provides digital ordering and delivery programs for restaurants from Sweetgreen to Denny’s, is expected to grow revenue nearly 30% in the next year. It is trading at about six times future sales.
BlackLine develops cloud-based services to automate the financial-close, accounts-receivable, and intercompany accounting processes. Its stock price has been hammered, going down about 40% this year and making it the subject of mergers-and-acquisitions chatter. Wall Street sees 21% revenue growth over the next year.
Jamf, which provides software for companies to manage Apple devices, is trading about 35% lower than where it debuted on the Nasdaq in 2020. It carries about twice as much debt as cash but is trading at just 6.2 times next year’s projected sales.