Expanding through acquisitions is J2 Global’s game, and that M&A strategy has proved effective for the Internet software and service provider that boasts a market cap of $2.9 billion.
But the Hollywood firm outdid itself last month, announcing last week that it had closed eight acquisitions in December.
They were all small. Still, eight deals in one month is almost unheard of, and the number came as a surprise to Shyam Patil, a senior analyst at Wedbush Securities in downtown Los Angeles. But that’s how J2 creates shareholder value, he said.
“For most companies, M&A is a tangential part of the growth story,” he said. “For J2, it’s front and center.”
Indeed, J2 acquired 29 companies last year – some were publicized, others unannounced – and 24 companies the previous year.
Last month’s purchases include broadband and mobile speed tester Scene of Seattle; fax services company Newrise Corp. of Coconut Creek, Fla.; storage backup firms Arion IT Ltd. of Ireland, Technology Partners in Glastonbury, Conn., and Quantum RBS Inc. of Canada; and email security providers Comendo of Denmark, Stay Secure of Sweden and TestudoData of Mount Vernon, Wash.
Specific terms of the deals were not disclosed. Scene, the largest of the eight deals and the only acquisition that was previously announced, has joined J2’s digital media group, which includes Web publishers PCMag.com, IGN.com and AskMen.com. The other seven will join its cloud services division, which covers online faxing, data backup, email marketing and other business communications systems and accounts for roughly 75 percent of J2’s revenue.
Chief Executive Hemi Zucker said that with the purchases, J2, whose latest employee count has hit 1,500, had expanded to 12 offices worldwide, including new branches in Stockholm and Copenhagen, Denmark. More cloud employees now work abroad than in the United States.
Expanding its global reach is driving J2’s mass acquisition plan, which has dramatically accelerated in recent years. The company has made more than 100 acquisitions since it launched in 1995, and with many bigger firms already netted, J2 is eyeing smaller players.
One benefit that comes with the bite-size buys, whose additions Zucker said were not material to the company’s revenue, is that J2 can improve customer acquisition by having outposts in other countries. Businesses that want their servers within their borders for legal or other reasons won’t have to move their data to the United States.
“When we buy a small company in Iceland, for example, we can now go to multinational companies and say we can keep your data in one of X countries,” Zucker said. “It’s unique. Nobody offers that.”
President Scott Turicchi, who leads the company’s M&A strategy, said the deals also allow J2 to pursue new services – it acquired Australian firm Web24 to get into Web hosting – or whole business segments. J2’s $167 million acquisition of Ziff Davis Inc. and its tech and gaming sites in 2012 essentially launched its digital media division.
As it looks ahead, J2, which posted net income of $28.7 million (60 cents a share) on sales of $153 million in the quarter ended Sept. 30, maintains a war chest of nearly $515 million in cash to fund its acquisitive appetite.
When considering the value of a purchase, J2 typically looks for a 20 percent cash-on-cash return over a five-year compounded period. Nearly all of its M&A deals are conducted in-house, from finding targets to holding negotiations and drafting purchase agreements. Deals often close within 30 to 90 days. Acquired companies are quickly integrated within another three months.
“As we’ve gotten bigger and diversified geographically, and through services and products and buying new business segments, it’s given us a broader vista of opportunity to put our capital to work,” Turicchi said.
However, J2’s M&A check-off list did not include backup storage provider Carbonite, which said last month that it received an unsolicited takeover bid from J2 at $15 a share. The $415 million cash offer, shared through letters filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, was J2’s second attempt to acquire the Boston firm, in which J2 is a minority stakeholder. Carbonite has traded below the offer price since the bid, which is scheduled to expire Jan. 26, was announced.
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