A bid battle between BAE, Boeing and Raytheon looms for Argon ST

As the U.S. prepares a massive attack against the Taleban in Afghanistan, where intelligence gathering – although sometimes imperfect – is key to success (as well as “hearts and minds”), it has emerged that some of the world’s biggest defense companies – notably BAE Systems, Boeing and Raytheon – are targeting for acquisition Argon ST.

Having hired in January Stone Key Partners, according to Reuters, Argon is seeking US$30 per share for its business, valuing it at US$660m. That’s a 40 percent premium to where its share price was on January 8 – just before news of a possible deal broke – but only 20 percent higher than where the share price is was as of May 11.

The question is why would Argon want to sell itself? There is one clue. Its growth rate has slowed in recent years. Its top line used to be growing at 11.9 percent per year. Now it is at 6.5 percent. Being part of a bigger defense group would help solve that problem.

A slowdown in growth may on the surface seem strange when Argon caters to what the defense experts call the C5ISAR space (otherwise known as Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Combat Systems, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance). That is a growing niche area focused on creating military grade virtual 3D, 360 panoramic battlefield views. Argon designs and develops sensors, electronic countermeasures and electronic attack systems, geo-location systems, plus reconnaissance equipment, to plug into this virtual 3D space.

But, budgets are under strain – and where governments can cut back, they will. “Curtailment of expenditures by the US government and its allies for defense equipment and supplies could have a negative effect on Argon’s ability to grow revenue and earnings,” says U.S. broker Stifel Nicolaus in a research note.

DealZone Daily

Cerberus Capital Management said it would buy defense contractor DynCorp International for about $1 billion in cash in one of the biggest leveraged buyouts of a publicly traded US company since the global financial crisis.  Read the Reuters story here.

A subsidiary of China’s Sinopec Group agreed to pay $4.65 billion for ConocoPhillips’s stake in a Canadian oil sands project, marking the country’s second largest investment in North America.  Read the Reuters story here.

And in stories reported by other media on Tuesday:

Buyout lender Intermediate Capital Group has raised 843 million euros for a new fund that will invest in debt-burdened private equity deals, the FT said. The fund will buy debt at a discount and provide fresh capital for European companies worth as much as 500 million euros.