Who Wants Novell?

There's a storm brewing over Novell (Nasdaq: NOVL  ) . The Linux specialist got an unsolicited buyout bid from a private equity firm -- but investors seem to expect a bidding war.

The turnaround experts at Elliott Associates want to buy all of Novell for $5.75 per share. That's a 49% premium to Novell's enterprise value as of yesterday, a 21% premium over yesterday’s close, and a generous bid any way you slice it. Elliott sees value in Novell's assets, but disagrees with the company's strategy, which means the management team would probably be eviscerated in short order.

"We believe the Company's stock has meaningfully underperformed all relevant indices and peers" because of failed acquisitions and strategy changes, Elliott wrote in its open letter to Novell's board of directors.

That indictment does ring true when you look at Novell's stock charts. I compared Novell to direct rivals such as Red Hat (NYSE: RHT  ) , Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) , Citrix Systems (Nasdaq: CTXS  ) , and IBM (NYSE: IBM  ) , and threw in the S&P 500 benchmark for good measure. Excluding today's 27% catapult shot, Novell underperformed them all over the last three, five, and 10 years. I've been telling Novell to get its act together for years, and a buyout just might be the ticket.

But Elliott might not be Novell's white knight. The stock trades at $6.07 right now, roughly 6% above the buyout offer. That points to investors wanting more, and possibly holding out for a richer offer.

Elliott has $16 billion under management, and it should have an ample war chest available if another bidder comes forward. I could see IBM taking an active hand in the Linux market by snagging Novell, and it's certainly possible that the deal could simply fall through, if nobody else wants to pay up and Elliott can't raise its bid. But in a day and age when Oracle (Nasdaq: ORCL  ) is buying hardware firms and Cisco Systems (Nasdaq: CSCO  ) is building servers, anything is possible.

Fool contributor Anders Bylund holds no position in any of the companies discussed here. Microsoft is a Motley Fool Inside Value selection. Motley Fool Options has recommended a diagonal call position on Microsoft. The Fool owns shares of Oracle. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. You can check out Anders' holdings and a concise bio if you like, and The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.


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