Seagate: Perfect Buyout Bait

When disk drive maker Western Digital (NYSE: WDC  ) reported earnings earlier this week, the company said that a price war broke out at the end of the quarter, because consumer demand turned out softer than expected and there was excess inventory to sell off. Then I told you to expect the same story from Seagate Technology (Nasdaq: STX  ) today.

Well, Seagate's side of the story is in, and it's actually a little bit different. Instead of participating in the quarter-ending clearance sales, Seagate lowered its prices much earlier and then held firm through the end-rush, resulting in average price declines similar to Western Digital's but along a different route.

The end result for Seagate was $2.7 billion in sales, 1.3% above the year-ago quarter, while earnings dwindled by 11% to $0.31 per diluted share. You see the effects of firm pricing policies on the bottom line, which shrunk slower than Western Digital's, and also in revenues, where Western Digital had a 9% year-on boost. Seagate managed its inventories by scaling down its production plans instead of holding a fire sale.

Regarding the pending buyout talks, SEC regulations forbid Seagate from saying much. That prevented Seagate from issuing forward guidance, which has become a highly watched measure in the broader memory and semiconductor market as investors worry about a pullback.

Still, as far as a buyout goes, while a private equity firm is showing interest right now, given the current state of the IT industry, I wouldn't count out interest from Oracle (Nasdaq: ORCL  ) , Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ  ) , or even a darkhorse like Cisco Systems (Nasdaq: CSCO  ) . Baking Seagate into one of the tech-sector giants that are congealing into total end-to-end solutions these days could provide benefits, though in the end I think they'll continue making more focused investments in areas like external disk arrays.

Seagate has gone private and then returned to the public markets once before and it could happen again. Penny-pinching valuations and muscular business like Seagate's make it the buyout flipper's dream come true. Moreover, data storage is at the very center of the next tech revolution, so a cheap buy today should offer great returns in a couple of years for a patient buyout firm.

Fool contributor Anders Bylund doesn't hold a position in any of the companies discussed here. The Fool has written calls (a bull call spread) on Cisco Systems. The Fool owns shares of Oracle. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.True to its name, The Motley Fool is made up of a motley assortment of writers and analysts, each with a unique perspective; sometimes we agree, sometimes we disagree, but we all believe in the power of learning from each other through our Foolish community. 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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