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What: Shares of Freescale Semiconductor (UNKNOWN:FSL.DL) are trading more than 7% higher today after falling back from an opening-bell gain in excess of 12%. Today's surge has been driven by chatter regarding the company's potential sale.
So what: The New York Post first reported late Thursday that the chipmaker had retained investment bank advisors to explore the potential sale of the company, but no additional details are yet available on this effort. One rumor involves Samsung's massive cash hoard, which is more than enough to swallow up Freescale without damaging the South Korean giant's ability to pursue other interests.
Reuters reported this would be Freescale's second time going private since it was spun off in 2004. The first buyout, completed at a cost of $17.6 billion in 2006 by private equity firms Blackstone (NYSE:BX), Carlyle (NASDAQ:CG), and others, has never realized a profit. It seems unlikely another buyout would net the private equity firms that still retain majority ownership the profit they first sought in 2006, as Freescale's market cap stands at $11.4 billion after today's pop.
Now what: Freescale is not cheap. Its 45.2 P/E ratio is one of the highest among large semiconductor manufacturers, and its price-to-free cash flow ratio is even higher at 64.8. Investors who jumped in a year ago have nearly doubled their investments after today's stock spike, with much of that growth coming in the past three months. If Freescale does sell itself off soon, it's not likely to fetch a much higher valuation than it commands today. If it doesn't complete a sale, it will be (at least temporarily) tarred as the chipmaker nobody wanted. Shareholders might want to consider cashing out before the buyout if they've got their eyes on more long-term growth prospects.