Bankrate (NASDAQ:RATE) announced preliminary second-quarter results at 1:34 p.m. yesterday. They arrived four minutes too late for investors to care.

See, at 1:30 p.m., the popular compiler of interest rate-related products announced that it would be acquired by privately held Apax Partners in a $571 million deal. The private equity firm is paying $28.50 a share for Bankrate.

That's not much of a buyout markup, representing just a 16% premium to Bankrate's close on Tuesday. It's also a 32% discount to the financial publisher's 52-week high. Apax has 24% of the Bankrate shares committed to the deal, but Mr. Market isn't entirely convinced that this is a slam dunk. Bankrate's stock closed slightly higher than the $28.50 a share tender offer price, suggesting investors' belief that a higher offer may still be coming.

If this all seems fishy, let's move the clock ahead by four minutes.

The preliminary earnings report doesn't feel irrelevant at all. Bankrate said that revenue will fall by 23% over last year's second quarter. Adjusted earnings will take an even bigger hit, clocking in at $0.19 a share. The company rang up $0.33 a share in adjusted profitability a year ago.

Bankrate CEO Thomas Evans is also talking down the company's near-term guidance, painting a gloomy picture of the "softness in the financial service advertising sector." It seems as if he's trying to sell investors on the deal, rather than Bankrate itself.

This doesn't mean that the company is trying to pull a fast one on investors. If the fundamentals are starting to crack -- and Apax is cool with that -- Evans is doing investors a favor. The weakness was already starting to show.

Bankrate has been a Rule Breakers recommendation for nearly three years. The newsletter service specializes in aggressive growth stocks, so it's no surprise to discover that this is not the scorecard's first buyout.

  • CNET Networks was snapped up by CBS (NYSE:CBS).
  • Gmarket agreed to eBay's (NASDAQ:EBAY) "buy it now" offer.
  • aQuantive decided to "ad it up" by joining Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT).

Even some stocks that have ultimately been booted by the scorecard -- such as XM Satellite Radio and Secure Computing -- eventually found successful suitors in Sirius XM Radio (NASDAQ:SIRI) and McAfee (NYSE:MFE), respectively.

Why is the newsletter service such a buyout magnet? That's easy. When you're a fast-growing company -- typically disrupting, if not reinventing, an industry -- you're going to attract the attention of growth-deficient dinosaurs and opportunistic private equity investors.

Bankrate deserves a healthier buyout premium, but the acquisition itself is certainly no surprise.

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