BEA Babbles On

Every couple of months seems to bring a new buyout rumor for BEA Systems (Nasdaq: BEAS  ) . In a recent report, UBS analyst Heather Bellini speculated that the company might undergo a change in control. In light of the lackluster performance over the past few years, I can certainly understand why shareholders are getting antsy.

BEA develops "middleware," which helps companies manage e-commerce and other complex tasks. It's a solid business, but the company is having trouble branching into new categories.

Late last week, BEA announced its fiscal Q2 results. Revenue increased 7% to $364.6 million, and the company signed deals with big-name clients such as Chevron (NYSE: CVX  ) , China Mobile (NYSE: CHL  ) , eBay (Nasdaq: EBAY  ) , and Wachovia (NYSE: WB  ) . Because it's cleaning up some dubious stock-option accounting, BEA provided no report on its net income. However, operating cash flows came to $61.4 million, and the company has about $1.1 billion in the bank.

One big red flag hung over the quarter: a 9.4% drop in license revenue, to $123.1 million. Keep in mind that this follows a 13% drop in Q1. On the conference call, CEO Alfred Chuang was confident that new product launches will turn this trend around. But he's been saying similar things for years, to mostly lackluster results.

It seems reasonable to expect that shareholders would want a buyout, but with the meltdown in the private equity market, a leveraged one probably isn't likely.

However, the company does have several major potential strategic buyers, such as Oracle (Nasdaq: ORCL  ) and Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ  ) . Buying BEA would give them core technologies, steady cash flows, and opportunities to slash costs.

To spur things along, we may even see hedge funds rattle BEA's cage. For example, activist shareholder Carl Icahn owns roughly 7.9 million shares of the company, according to recent SEC filings.

While it's impossible to predict these things, I suspect shareholders will put ever-greater pressure on BEA to sell. But if history is any indication, I think management will ignore the noise, making any successful buyout far from easy.

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Fool contributor Tom Taulli, author of The Complete M&A Handbook, does not own shares mentioned in this article. He is currently ranked 4,317 out of more than 60,000 total participants in CAPS.


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