Why a New Dell Buyout?

Dell HQ
Dell HQ

Financial firm Blackstone Group L.P. (NYSE: BX) may make a offer to take Dell Inc. (NASDAQ: DELL) private, an offer that would be higher than one from Michael Dell and Silver Lake. Such a move would be risky, given on the PC firm's earnings and the future of its major businesses.

A new Dell owner would have several options. The most obvious would be to cut costs through significant layoffs. Or, Dell could sell some of its divisions. The first risks cutting muscle along with fat, particularly because Dell already has had rounds of layoffs. The second risks that an auction of Dell businesses will bring disappointing results.

A new Dell owner could just fire people as sales decline, particularly at its PC division. It is an ages old tactic that sometimes works, if the balance is perfect. Cut too much and a legacy business that could make money for a while, even as its shrinks, could be understaffed. Cut too little and the chance to maintain some level of operating income disappears.

Dell still makes enough money that lower expenses might preserve operating income, but that current operating level may be too low to support a large load of debt. Dell's net income last year was $2.4 billion, down from $3.5 billion the previous year. Margins at the consumer PC division, which is about a fifth of Dell's revenue, fell just below zero as the revenue from this operation dropped 20%. That left Dell's sales to businesses and enterprises to make up some of the revenue. However, enterprise sales face efforts from more successful rivals like Oracle Corp. (NASDAQ: ORCL) and International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE: IBM). Even severely crippled rival Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ) remains in many of these businesses. HP maybe wounded but it is not dead.

Dell's other large business is its services division, which has been troubled for several years. Dell has tried to bolster this segment through a frenzy of M&A, the most notable being the purchases of EDS and Perot Systems. The net effects of these transactions were write-downs based on analyses that Dell had paid to much.

With problems at many Dell divisions, it is hard to understand which it could sell for much, unless it wants to jettison the only operations that make substantial money.

Private equity purchases of large public companies generally are based on the idea that a private company can be better run than a public one, even if it is saddled with debt. So little about Dell is attractive that it is impossible to see how that would work.

Filed under: 24/7 Wall St. Wire, Mergers and Buy Outs, PC Companies, Rumors Tagged: BX, DELL, featured, HPQ, IBM, ORCL