A Western Digital workplace constructing is proven in Irvine, California, U.S., January 24, 2017.
Mike Blake | Reuters
Firm: Western Digital (WDC)
Enterprise: Western Digital is a number one developer, producer, and supplier of knowledge storage gadgets and options and operates in two market-leading franchises: exhausting disk drives (“HDD”) and NAND flash reminiscence (“Flash”). These two companies got here collectively by way of the $19 billion acquisition of SanDisk in 2016, which led the corporate to diversify its almost five-decade enterprise away from HDD and it turned one of many largest Flash gamers within the business.
Inventory Market Worth: $18.6B ($59.45 per share)
Activist: Elliott Associates
Share Possession: ~6.0%
Common Price: n/a
Activist Commentary: Elliott is a really profitable and astute activist investor, significantly within the know-how sector. Their staff consists of analysts from main tech personal fairness corporations, engineers, working companions – former know-how CEO and COOs. When evaluating an funding, in addition they rent specialty and common administration consultants, knowledgeable value analysts and business specialists. They typically watch firms for a few years earlier than investing and have an in depth secure of spectacular board candidates.
What’s Taking place?
On Could 3, 2022, Elliott despatched a letter to Western Digital’s board, expressing its perception that the corporate ought to separate its NAND flash reminiscence enterprise. Elliott referred to as on the board to conduct a full strategic evaluate and expressed its perception that such a separation may result in a inventory worth of $100+ per share by the top of 2023.
Behind the Scenes
As new “activists” come on to the scene we now have seen a good quantity of “promote the corporate” activism with no detailed plan or purpose why. We now have been very vital of this model of activism as brief time period and grasping. These activists who didn’t perceive why we have been being so vital ought to learn Elliott’s letter for instance of properly thought out, deeply analyzed, shareholder-focused strategic activism marketing campaign. Elliott supplies an in depth 13-page letter of why the corporate’s two companies have to be separated and a plan to attain the separation that’s in one of the best curiosity of shareholders.
The corporate is without doubt one of the largest suppliers of storage elements for information infrastructure globally and has constructed a profitable HDD enterprise. Nevertheless, the HDD business started a sluggish decline in 2013 as desktop and pocket book PCs transitioned towards quicker NAND flash solid-state drives (SSDs). So, in 2015 the corporate introduced it could purchase SanDisk for $19 billion to enter the higher-growth Flash business. Within the years following this acquisition, the HDD business rebounded and has now turn into a development market once more, with Western Digital as one of many two dominant suppliers of this know-how, behind Seagate. Western Digital is the one firm at present that operates in each HDD and NAND flash.
Within the final six years, the corporate has underperformed in a number of areas. First, they’ve tried to ship on the strategic synergies of a mixed HDD and Flash portfolio however have misplaced market share in each HDD and Flash. Second, the operational missteps have persistently led to unfulfilled monetary targets together with in income compound annual development fee, gross margins, working bills and working margin. Third, the corporate has poor inventory worth efficiency, returning -23.10%, 6.14% and -39.57% over the previous 1-, 3- and 5-year intervals versus -0.89%, 41.07% and 74.0% for the S&P 500, respectively.
In its letter, Elliott makes a convincing argument that the explanation why Western Digital is underperforming is as a result of the 2 companies shouldn’t be in the identical firm. Each companies are stable and have good market share however would have considerably extra worth as standalones. HDD and Flash are completely totally different applied sciences: spinning mechanical disks versus modern semiconductor gadgets. The manufacturing processes are separate and whereas the companies share widespread prospects, the merchandise could be in competitors in sure use instances.
Previous to the SanDisk acquisition, Western Digital persistently had a better price-earnings ratio than its closest peer, Seagate. Because the acquisition, Seagate has had a considerably larger price-earnings ratio. As we speak, Western Digital has an enterprise worth of $21 billion, in comparison with the mixed $34 billion professional forma enterprise worth of Western Digital and SanDisk once they introduced the acquisition six years in the past, representing $13 billion of worth loss. In contrast, in the identical interval, Seagate grew its enterprise worth from $17 billion to $22 billion. When Western Digital introduced its acquisition of SanDisk, its inventory was buying and selling at $75 per share. Six years later, the inventory has declined by almost 30% to $53 per share. In the identical time interval, the S&P 500 and Nasdaq elevated by 103% and 190%, respectively. Seagate (the corporate’s closest HDD peer) has outperformed Western Digital by 278% during the last decade, and Micron (its closest NAND peer) has outperformed Western Digital by 868% during the last decade.
Elliott believes that Western Digital’s valuation at present displays the market’s view that proudly owning HDD and Flash collectively yields a conflict of synergies by way of operational and monetary efficiency. Accordingly, they’re calling on the corporate to discover a full separation of the Flash enterprise, which they imagine may result in a inventory worth of $100+ per share by the top of 2023, they usually illustrate the trail to get there.
Western Digital’s HDD enterprise has 38% market share (versus 46% for Seagate), $9.4 billion of income (versus $12 billion for Seagate), 21% development fee (versus 18% for Seagate) and each firms have a 30% gross revenue margin. Utilizing Seagate’s multiples of 1.8x LTM income and 6.1x LTM gross revenue, Western Digital’s HDD enterprise would have a price of $17 billion.
Western Digital’s Flash enterprise generates $10 billion in income and comparable companies have been acquired at multiples of 1.7-1.9x income. This is able to attribute a minimal of a $17 billion worth to the Flash enterprise. However this isn’t the traditional name for strategic motion. Elliott is placing their cash the place their mouth is and providing $1+ billion of incremental fairness capital into the Flash enterprise at an enterprise worth of $17 billion to $20 billion, which could be utilized both in a spin-off transaction or as fairness financing in a sale or merger with a strategic companion. Basically, Elliott is expressing their willingness to take part within the acquisition of the Flash enterprise with a $1 billion funding. So, Elliott sees every enterprise valued at roughly $17 billion, whereas your complete enterprise worth of the corporate is $21 billion.
If Elliott does get the Flash enterprise divested on the worth they’re placing their very own cash behind, that may attribute a $4 billion valuation for your complete HDD enterprise. There’s good purpose to imagine that there are patrons on the market for the Flash enterprise, particularly with a mix of Western Digital’s Flash enterprise with its three way partnership companion Kioxia. Western Digital’s curiosity in buying Kioxia is properly documented through the years, together with a proposal in 2017 and the rumored $20 billion transaction worth final 12 months (1.7x LTM income). Prior to now 5 years, Kioxia has been publicly rumored to obtain curiosity from a protracted listing of different strategic and monetary events.
Their plan may resonate favorably with the corporate’s present board and administration staff. The choice to accumulate SanDisk predates the corporate’s CEO, David Goeckeler, and his management staff, almost all of whom have been employed in 2020 or later. The truth is, Goeckeler’s first operational transfer was separating HDD and Flash inside Western Digital. It isn’t a giant step to get the board to separate it into a special firm, significantly since solely two of Western Digital’s present ten administrators have been on the board for the SanDisk acquisition. Furthermore, shareholder activism is in regards to the energy of persuasion and the ability of the argument, and Elliott makes a really compelling argument right here.
It also needs to be famous that Elliott reported an approximate $1 billion funding within the firm however has not filed a 13D regardless of having a roughly 6% place. Primarily based on their historical past and philosophy, that’s probably as a result of Elliott is utilizing swaps and different derivatives to construct their place and people sorts of securities will not be required to be included in “helpful possession” for the needs of 13D filings presently. Using swaps on this method is the topic of a present Securities and Change Fee proposal and will very properly change within the brief time period, forcing Elliott to file a 13D on this funding.
Ken Squire is the founder and president of 13D Monitor, an institutional analysis service on shareholder activism, and he’s the founder and portfolio supervisor of the 13D Activist Fund, a mutual fund that invests in a portfolio of activist 13D investments. Squire can be the creator of the AESG™ funding class, an activist funding model centered on bettering ESG practices of portfolio firms.