Why Equifax Is Spending $1.8 Billion to Acquire a Company Down Under

The company has inked an agreement to buy top Australian credit information specialist Veda Group.

Eric Volkman
Eric Volkman
Jan 14, 2016 at 5:06PM

Credit reporting agency Equifax (NYSE:EFX) ended 2015 with a pricey shopping trip to Australia. Late in November, the company announced it had reached a deal to acquire Veda Group for around $1.7 billion in cash. Veda Group is described by its potential buyer as "Australia's leading credit information company," so the synergies are obvious.

Australia isn't really a hotbed of buyout activity for U.S. financials, though, so let's take a closer look at why Equifax is so eager to buy a big asset there.

Source: Flickr user Hai Linh Truong.

Global ambitions
One of Equifax's big strategic goals is to expand via choice buys in overseas markets, where there's plenty of room for growth.

At the moment, the company has operations in nearly every major Latin American market, but its presence elsewhere is minimal. Equifax does its thing in the U.K., Spain, and Portugal, plus it participates in joint ventures in Russia and India and runs a customer support center in Ireland. The rest of the world map, however, is a blank for Equifax.

Australia qualifies as a "new" market because its credit reporting industry is shifting toward an up-to-date "comprehensive" model. In the words of that country's Retail Credit Association, this means that "credit providers will be able to assess multiple sources of information that presents a more complete and balanced picture of an individual's credit position."

In other words, Australia's credit companies need the kind of information that Equifax specializes in providing.

Veda for the victory
And if you're going to make a major buy on the Australian market, the asset of choice is Veda Group. The company possesses credit information on roughly 20 million people and almost 6 million businesses in Australia and New Zealand. Considering that the total count of every man, woman, and child in the two nations combined is not quite 28 million, that's a commanding position.

No wonder the company is profitable -- by a wide margin. In its most recent fiscal year ending last June, it posted a bottom line of A$78 million (US$55 million) on revenue of A$339 million (US$238 million).

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That will help boost Equifax's results and keep the growth train chugging along. The company has done a good job lifting its revenue and net profit over the years; both have risen consistently so far this decade. Its ventures abroad have helped, while domestic performance has been consistently solid.

In the U.S., Equifax remains a go-to credit information option for many big customers. Last month, for example, it closed a deal with identity-protection company LifeLock (NYSE:LOCK). Equifax will provide services that LifeLock will turn right around and sell to its own customers. In LifeLock's words, these products "will comprise a part of LifeLock's identity theft protection services for consumers and include, among others, credit monitoring, credit data, and credit score products and services."

A cross-Pacific deal
Equifax had a strong and clear desire for Veda Group; its accepted offer -- raised slightly from an initial bid -- represented a 42% premium to the latter company's share price on the day before Equifax made its initial approach last September (Veda Group is traded on the Australian Securities Exchange).

The $1.7 billion or so Equifax plans to fork over will be financed by debt. That's a tough pill to swallow, considering the company is already burdened with over $1.1 billion in long-term borrowings. But Veda Group is a strong and complementary asset in a promising market. Yes, it's a costly buy, but assuming the integration process goes smoothly, it should pay off.

Veda Group shareholders are to vote on the buyout next month; the company's board of directors unanimously recommends that they vote in favor. The deal is also subject to approval from the relevant regulatory bodies in Australia and New Zealand.