There’s been an acquisition deal announced in the Ethernet chip market. But it wasn’t one of the hot startups you might be thinking of.
No, it’s Vitesse Semiconductor, a publicly traded company that reached $100 per share during the dot-com boom but was probably quite happy to receive a $5.28-per-share offer from Microsemi, as was announced this morning. That’s about a $389 million deal.
Vitesse is larger than the startups mentioned above, with revenues of $108 million for the fiscal year ending September 2014. But that’s down from a peak of $442 million in revenues in fiscal 2000 — the same year that Vitesse’s stock surpassed the $100 mark for two consecutive days. That would be a share price of more than $2,000, after you adjust for Vitesse’s 1-for-20 reverse split in 2010.
At press time, the company’s stock was up $1.45 (37%) to $5.34 — a product of a 21-day “go shop” provision that lets Vitesse solicit better deals until April 7.
Lots of tech companies crashed after the year 2000 but eventually recovered. I have to admit that I did not think Vitesse would be one of them, not the way the 2000s unfolded for that company.
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Late in that decade, it became plausible that telecom would enter a packet-based era, with IP and Ethernet ascendant. All three of those companies aggressively added packet processing to the portfolio, making bubble-sized startup acquisitions that eventually fizzled.
For Vitesse, that meant seven deals from 1998 to 2001. At least three of those acquisitions, totaling a $1.3 billion investment on paper, were shuttered by 2002.
And that’s not the really bad part. Like many tech companies, Vitesse had to restate earnings to account for back-dated stock options. (You might recall a Broadcom do-over that resulted in $2.2 billion in charges for fiscal years 1998 through 2005.)
Vitesse’s finances turned out to be messy even beyond the stock-options issue. In 2006, the CEO and CFO were dismissed, and Vitesse went more than two years without filing a proper quarterly earnings report.
Chris Gardner took over as CEO in 2006 and remains there after a nine-year haul mostly characterized by losses. Vitesse scraped together a profit for fiscal 2007 — 7 cents per share — but has reported annual losses ever since, including losses of $18 million, or 30 cents per share, for fiscal 2014.
Obviously, Vitesse survived. Partly, that’s because the company avoided competing at the heart of Broadcom’s empire, writes Linley Group analyst Loring Wirbel in an email.
Rather than try its hand at the enterprise or data center markets, Vitesse concentrated on Carrier Ethernet, which eventually brought it into industrial Ethernet and (you knew this was coming) the Internet of Things.
So, Vitesse has found a buyer in Microsemi, an old-guard semiconductor firm founded in 1960. Microsemi specializes in analog and mixed-signal (analog-plus-digital) chips, doing signal processing for a variety of industries.
Vitesse’s Ethernet chips represent a new market for Microsemi, but Vitesse can contribute on the mixed-signal front as well. “They still have a lot of signal integrity and equalization talents, some of which they offer as IP [intellectual property]. All of these elements taken together would not sustain them much beyond a few hundred million a year, but it represented a good opportunity for Microsemi,” Wirbel writes.
Microsemi executives aren’t detailing their plans for Vitesse and probably won’t say much until the deal’s completion, which is expected to come by the end of June.