Trading Desk: Coupa Takeout Brings Back Memories (And Points To Tomorrow)

I was pleased to see Coupa Software (COUP) sell itself for $81 a share. The age-old pulse of corporate acquisition is alive and well, providing long-term shareholders with a profitable exit.

Deals like this are going to be an increasingly important component of investor strategy in the new year. As the economy cools and good companies languish in obscurity, M&A always accelerates. Conglomerates need to buy growth while eliminating potential competition. Consolidators decide they no longer want to share a favorite holding’s success when they can take it all.

That’s why those of us who buy the right company far below its takeout price don’t mourn when a favorite ticker symbol disappears. We cheer. And I’m looking forward to a lot more cheering ahead. When there’s blood in the water, Wall Street turns green with envy, greed and anticipation.

And sometimes the market gives us opportunities to cash out well in advance of the final acquisition bid. That’s what COUP did for us. Back in 2018, my team figured out that this company would ultimately be worth around $80 . . . the actual number we came up with at the time was $78.

At the time, it was only a $65 stock, so I urged my GameChangers subscribers to buy in. Almost exactly six months later, we took the exit within a few percentage points of my target. The intervening years were a wild ride but COUP never gave me a compelling reason to raise that target high enough to justify coming back to the stock.

You could argue that we left money on the table. But the math just didn’t argue for holding on. After all, none of COUP’s competitors seemed eager to buy into the company’s success curve. Private equity funds steered clear.

When a private equity fund sloshing with money finally came to the table, the offer came in only a few dollars above what I always said COUP was worth. And the board jumped at the bid. They knew in their hearts that they’d probably never get a better exit in the foreseeable future.

It took nearly four years for that offer to come. My GameChangers subscribers took a 17% trading gain off the table and considered it a pretty good payout for a six-month bet. After all, Wall Street was in the early stages of recovering from a short but savage bear market. We wanted to keep cash moving, liquidating profits and putting the proceeds back to work.

That’s what we do. I’ve never been a Warren Buffett type promising to only buy stocks that would be worth holding onto “forever.” Forever is an eternity on Wall Street. Most of the time, that buy-and-hold mindset will only test your patience one way or another.

This year has been a nightmare for buy-and-hold investors. And I have to admit that the last four years haven’t added up to much better for COUP shareholders who never decided that it was time to take the exit.

If you bought COUP on any day after we took our exit in GameChangers, you probably aren’t cheering. There’s a 90% chance that you bought the stock above $81. The takeout “premium” turns into a haircut . . . and that’s not even counting the opportunity cost of leaving your cash tied up for up to four years waiting for an offer too good to refuse.

It took the deepest bear market in decades to push COUP to $40 and trigger that final offer. Investors who bought above $300 aren’t cheering. They’re the ones mourning a future that never happened.

But the private equity funds did all the math and decided that COUP just isn’t worth more than $81 a share. That’s the final offer. I’m happy we took a double-digit profit on COUP and walked away years ago. As it turns out, I was right all along.