British business software company Sage Group Plc has been picked as preferred bidder in the race to buy Australian peer MYOB Ltd, people familiar with matter said Wednesday.
Sage outbid private equity firms Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co LP and Bain Capital to enter exclusive talks to buy the provider of accountancy software, with one source saying the British company had bid up to A$1.4 billion ($1.5 billion).
Sage's shares pared earlier losses and were 1.3 percent lower at 246 pence by 1352 GMT, underperforming a 0.1 percent weaker benchmark London index.
Its A$1.3-1.4 billion bid gives a valuation of about 13 times MYOB's core earnings, and was at least 10 percent above bids from competing private equity firms, two sources said.
An announcement could come soon, one of the sources said.
The deal would be Sage's biggest to date and would mark a resumption of the acquisition strategy that has driven the group's international growth during the last decade.
It also demonstrates large corporate buyers' ability to outbid private equity firms for strategic assets, a reversal from last year when HG Capital snapped up Italian software firm TeamSystem and KKR bought a majority stake in Norway's Visma.
MYOB, an abbreviation of the phrase 'Mind Your Own Business', is being sold by private equity firms Archer Capital and HarbourVest Partners LLC, which bought it for about A$450 million in 2008. The firms had hired UBS AG to advise on the sale, sources have said previously.
Sage, which has a market value of $5.5 billion, supplies business management software to small- and medium-sized enterprises. Its sales are split about one-third software to two-third support contracts.
Sage has grown through acquisitions, typically moving into new markets by buying a local provider of software, and now has more than 6 million customers in more than 50 countries.
The group, based in Newcastle, north-east England, has not struck any major deals in the last three years, choosing instead to pay down debt, but Chief Executive Guy Berruyer said in May that M&A was still part of its strategy.
At its year end in March, Sage had net debt of 106 million pounds ($174 million) and had committed funds available of 545 million pounds until 2015-2017.
UBS analysts in a report on August 16 noted that other recent deals in the sector had been struck at enterprise values of more than 10 times EBITDA.
KKR acquired a 77 percent stake in accountancy software company Visma for 12.5 times EBITDA, and HG Capital's TeamSystem deal was struck at 11.3 times EBITDA, beating Sage in the process, UBS said in the report. Both deals were in August 2010.
Archer and Sage declined to comment. HarbourVest did not respond to requests for comment. UBS was not immediately available for comment.
Sources declined to be named because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
(Additional reporting by Simon Meads Editing by Jacqueline Wong)