A 18% decliner in the last 12 months, even after a near 20% surge in 2012, NetApp (NTAP) may not have many able or willing buyers, even as speculation for a deal persists.The company, which sells hardware to store data for manufacturers, resellers and business partners has benefited from stronger than expected third-quarter earnings announced on Feb. 16 with its performance bolstered by an increase in both customers and shipments. Still, the company is so large that it's limited to acquirers the size of IBM, Dell, Oracle and HP, which all may have an aversion to NetApp for a host of reasons. The company's market cap stands at over $15 billion, making a prospective deal significantly larger than anything cut in 2011. There are hitches with almost every potential acquirer with the cash or financial strength to take NetApp on. Cisco, EMC (EMC) and VMWare (VMW) are partners on a server, storage and virtualization venture, making a potential deal fraught with challenges. In May 2011, a Cisco and NetApp partnership called FlexPod began showing promising orders, further complicating an acquisition. After taking on Autonomy, Hewlett Packard's new Chief Executive Meg Whitman said in late 2011 that the company will be staying on the sidelines as it sorts out what to do with the businesses it already owns. For NetApp, the best bet of an acquirer seems to be Dell, which is diversifying its personal computer's business into supplying data center equipment and software. A lot may be tied how consumers react to the launch of Microsoft's Windows 8 rollout later in 2012. After losing out to HP on its $2.35 billion acquisition of 3PAR, would Dell be willing to bet the farm on networking? After all, Chairman Michael Dell has said that aside from the company's new diversification focus and the promise of Windows 8, Dell will benefit from a distracted HP. Meanwhile, some are looking for NetApp to make acquisitions and boost its product offerings in data analytics and security. In a Nov. 17 note, Brian Marshall of ISI Group wrote that with its near $5 billion in cash, the company should look at deals as bold as a Salesforce.com, Informatica (INFA) or Tibix (TIBX) acquisition within software and IT services, or Brocade (BRCD) in the enterprise storage space. Also in November, a Bloomberg article pointed to CommVault (CVLT) and Quantum (QTM) as possible NetApp acquisitions, which may help the company keep pace with competitor EMC. While NetApp's revenue is expected to grow to $6.2 billion in 2012, its profit is expected to fall 11% to $597 million, according to consensus estimates polled by Bloomberg. Fourteen out of the company's top fifteen shareholders added to their NetApp holdings in the most recent quarter, according to filings with the Securities and Exchange Comission, including Goldman Sachs and Vanguard, who boosted their stakes above 4% as the top NetApp holders.
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