Winner’s Curse: HP’s Storage Prize
Congratulations HP (HPQ)…you are the proud winner of 3Par Inc. (PAR), a relatively small enterprise storage hardware and software company, for the bargain price of 125x’s 2011 earnings! Never mind that you were late to the game in your winning $2.4 billion bid against Dell Inc. (DELL), or that you paid more than triple the price ($33 per share) that 3Par was trading just 21 days ago (< $10 per share). At least you have a storage trophy you can show all your friends and you don’t have to carry around all those heavy bills anymore.
In bidding wars and auctions, the victor of the price battle runs the risk of earning the “Winner’s Curse.” The curse falls upon those that bid a price that exceeds an auctioned asset’s intrinsic value. How can this occur? Well for one reason, the bidder may not have complete information regarding the value of the asset. Secondly, there can be emotional factors, or ego, that play a role in the decision and price paid. Lastly, unique factors, such as strategic benefits or synergies may exist that allow one bidder to offer a higher price than other auction participants. For example, consider an exploration and production company (XYZ Drilling Co.) that is bidding for drilling lease rights in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. If XYZ Drilling Co. has unique existing drilling operations in the same area as the auctioned assets, XYZ Drilling Co. may be in a better position of making a profitable bid relative to its peers.
HP vs. Dell – A Deeper Look
Let’s take a deeper dive into the HP bid of 3Par. While HP generates a lot of cash by selling printers, cartridges, and computers, the company doesn’t exactly have a bullet-proof balance sheet. Unlike let’s say Apple Inc. (AAPL), which has about $46 billion in cash on its balance sheet with no debt (see Steve Jobs: Gluttonous Hog), HP actually carries more debt than cash (about $20 billion in debt and $15 billion in cash). What’s more, HP has little tangible equity, once $42 billion in goodwill and intangible assets are subtracted from the total asset value of the company – leaving HP with an astronomically high ratio of 275x’s price to tangible book value. For most companies operating with a positive net cash position, making acquisitions accretive is not that difficult in this current environment – when cash is decaying away with a paltry 1% return. Unfortunately for HP, their accretive hurdle is higher than a cash-rich company. Their weighted average cost of capital is ratcheted significantly higher due to a net debt position (not net cash).
Here is the viewpoint on the deal from Ashok Kumar, senior technology analyst at Rodman & Renshaw LLC:
“It’s in excess of $3 million per employee. To put it in perspective, today 3Par has about 5 percent [market share] of the very high-end market and for these premiums to pay out, [HP] would have to expand their market share to about 25 percent or about $1.5 billion, which is 5x the projected growth rate. And all of that would come at the expense of incumbents [like] IBM, EMC, Hitachi.”
On the Bright Side
Although the price paid by Hewlett-Packard for 3Par is ridiculously too high, this deal alone is not going to break HP’s piggybank. HP is currently raking in about $8 billion in cash flow per year, so absent aggressive share buybacks or other large acquisitions, HP should be able to pay off the cost of the deal in a few quarters. Secondarily, HP does gain some synergies by integrating 3Par’s blocklevel data storage expertise into HP’s existing portfolio of other storage technologies ( i.e., StoreOnce and IBRIX). Thirdly, HP gains some strategic defensive benefits by keeping 3Par out of Dell’s hands, a potentially formidable competitor in the storage space, given the intensive overlap in customer bases between HP & Dell. Lastly, HP will no doubt be able to introduce and cross-sell 3Par products into Hewlett’s vastly larger customer distribution channels and reap the resulting rewards.
All in all, the 3Par acquisition by HP makes perfect strategic sense, however the price paid will turn out to be a much better deal for 3Par shareholders, rather than HP shareholders. HP ultimately shelled out a hefty price tag to become the victorious party in the 3Par bidding war, but rather than increasing shareholder value, HP ended up achieving the “Winner’s Curse.”
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds and AAPL, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in HPQ, PAR, DELL, IBM, EMC, Hitachi, or any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.