SAP Buys SuccessFactors — Who’s Next?

Back in early October, I discussed the possible buyout candidates for cloud companies. While the cloud has many definitions — which is normal for the hyped tech world — it is really about using the Internet to deliver business applications. It means having fewer expenses for infrastructure, like servers, as well as benefiting from shared databases and resources.

When I wrote my piece, Oracle (NASDAQ:ORCL) agreed to pay $1.43 billion for RightNow (NASDAQ:RNOW). I thought it was just the start of a trend for traditional software companies — such as IBM (NYSE:IBM), Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) and even HP (NYSE:HPQ) — to buy up players in the space. Consider that, according to a report from the Society for Information Management, the cloud is the No. 1 priority for information technology managers.

Well, it looks like the consolidation wave might be back. This week, we saw another deal (which was one of my picks): SAP (NYSE:SAP) agreed to pay $3.4 billion for SuccessFactors (NASDAQ:SFSF). The price tag was a lofty 50% premium to the close of the stock price on Friday, before the deal was announced.

So who might be the next target? To answer this, it’s important to understand what a large buyer would want. For example, a company that already has lots of scale. After all, the goal would be to roll out large customers across the platform. In other words, it would not make sense to plunk down cash on a niche cloud player — that simply would not move the needle.

Another key factor would likely be longevity: Has the cloud operator been able to maintain its customer relationships? What’s the churn rate? Are customers buying adding more seats? Such things are telltale signs that the technology is strong.

There aren’t many publicly traded companies that measure up. But one definitely stands out: NetSuite (NYSE:N).

Founded in 1998, the company is a pioneer of the cloud industry. Through mostly internal development, NetSuite has created a full-blown enterprise resource planning system. This allows companies to manage critical functions like HR, inventory and accounting. NetSuite also has other interesting add-ons like e-commerce and customer relationship management.

The company boasts more than 10,000 customers, which span from small businesses to global operations. One of NetSuite’s most recent customer wins is Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM).

The most logical buyer for NetSuite is Oracle. Keep in mind that NetSuite’s majority shareholder is Larry Ellison, who is the CEO and co-founder of Oracle. Since 2005, he has been fairly aggressive with acquisitions, such as seen with deals for Sybase, PeopleSoft and Sun Microsystems.

Still, investors should proceed with caution. During the past few weeks, NetSuite’s stock price has gone from $37 to $47.30. But it has a history of being volatile and has seen several large drops. When things calm down, you might be able to get a better price on the shares.

Tom Taulli runs the InvestorPlace blog “IPOPlaybook,” a site dedicated to the hottest news and rumors about initial public offerings. He is also the author of “All About Short Selling” and “All About Commodities.” Follow him on Twitter at @ttaulli. As of this writing, he did not own a position in any of the aforementioned stocks.

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