Big Blue opens its arms, and its wallet, to Red Hat

On Oct. 28, IBM (NYSE: IBM) and Red Hat (NYSE: RHT) executives announced a proposed acquisition ― one that will be the industry’s third-largest acquisition should it gain approval. The deal, valued at $34 billion, would bring Red Hat into IBM’s hybrid cloud team, in its Technology Services and Cloud Platforms (TS&CP) group, where its IaaS (formerly SoftLayer), PaaS (formerly Bluemix) and hybrid management capabilities reside.

Sticker shock fades once you factor in the rest of the numbers

Historically, initial public offerings (IPOs) and sales of more traditional technology and software companies have been valued at around 5x their annual revenue. However, in recent years, as more cloud-native companies with subscription-based business models go public or get acquired, this multiple has steadily shifted upward. As a rather extreme example, Cisco (Nasdaq: CSCO) bought AppDynamics for $3.7 billion, a valuation of nearly 16x AppDynamics’ annual revenue, even though in the week prior to the purchase AppDynamics had been valued at $1.9 billion on an annual revenue of approximately $220 million as the company readied for its IPO.

Much of the speculation around this monstrous deal relates to how IBM can and will fund such a hefty purchase. To put this massive $34 billion figure into perspective, Red Hat’s trailing 12-month revenue for the four quarters ended Aug. 31, 2018, was just shy of $3.1 billion, indicating the deal is valued at 11x Red Hat’s annual revenue. Figure 1 shows that if Red Hat were to stay on its double-digit growth pattern and trajectory*, its revenue and operating income would be projected to more than double by the close of 2021, benefiting from access to IBM’s vast enterprise customer base.

Estimated revenue, year-to-year growth, operating margin and more for 2018 through 2021

These projections help IBM justify the large purchase price. Additionally, it is likely that the purchase price per share was set at least a few weeks ago, when there were more Red Hat shares available and at a higher price. On Oct. 1, Red Hat was trading at $133 a share, compared to the $117 per share price it was trading at on Oct. 26.

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