Today, Lexmark announced that its Board of Directors has “authorized the exploration of strategic alternatives to enhance shareholder value.” After the announcement was made, Lexmark’s stock rose more than 6% (as of this posting), lifting the company’s market cap to $2.1B. This is not that great of a valuation for a company that bills itself as a “$3.7B global technology company that includes a $1.5B Higher Value Solutions business comprised of Enterprise Software (ES) and Managed Print Services (MPS).”
That Enterprise Software business, of course, includes Perceptive, Kofax, ReadSoft, Brainware, and some other ECM-focused companies that have been rolled up since 2010. Most recently, Lexmark acquired Kofax for $1B in a somewhat surprising deal. It followed up by appointing Kofax CEO Reynolds Bish as president of Lexmark ES, which has about a $700M annual run rate.
Unfortunately, investors were less than thrilled with the guidance Lexmark presented for its overall business in conjunction with its Q2 earnings report, which dropped the company’s valuation by 20% on a single day in July. Although the stock has bounced back slightly over the past few weeks (including today), it is still trading at more than 25% below its July peak.
Lexmark has made a concerted effort to shift its business from hardware-centric to a software and services focus, stressing its growing ES and MPS revenue. Unfortunately, it appears that investors are still valuing the company based on its declining hardware and supplies revenue. Stated Jean-Paul Montupet, lead director of the Lexmark Board of Directors, in relation to this, “We are extremely proud of what the Lexmark management team and employees have accomplished in the transformation of Lexmark. While the Board is encouraged by the company’s future prospects, the Board does not believe Lexmark’s current share price fully reflects the intrinsic value created by the company, and the Board has concluded it is appropriate to explore strategic alternatives as the next step to unlock this value.”
What specifically those strategic alternatives are is not mentioned, but speculation is that the company could be sold either to a private equity company or another high-tech company. HP, which had long been discussed as a possible landing point for Kofax and has a partnership history with Lexmark, is one possible buyer. However, to me, a private equity buyout at this point would seem to make more sense. After all, less than six months ago, Lexmark paid $1B to pick up Kofax, so selling the whole company to someone else for anything close to its current market valuation would seem unlikely. After all, Kofax was a $300M-plus company and Lexmark is a $3B-plus company. The math just doesn’t make good sense.
What makes more sense is to take the company private, which would conceivably enable those who agree with Lexmark’s management’s transformative vision to stay on board as investors. The company would then be able to work on really affecting the changes it wants to without the worry of meeting quarterly numbers – which are going to be very hard to meet as the formerly hardware-driven company de-emphasizes hardware. When the transformation is complete, and Lexmark is operating as primarily a software and services business, it can then go public again, conceivably with a more favorable valuation.
At least that’s the way I see it shaking out.