At age 29, Dell Inc. is no longer the hot-shot investment story that once captivated the financial world.
The company's last stock split occurred nearly 14 years ago. Its stock price, even after a run up last week, is less than a quarter of what it was in 2000.
But, for all its ups and downs over the past decade, Dell is still the big dog of Austin technology.
With 14,000 workers in Central Texas, it remains the area's largest private employer. It is the most prominent local company with the biggest name recognition. It's also one of the largest companies in Texas that isn't in the oil business. It has generated enormous wealth that has found its way into investments in new companies and into donations for hospitals, museums and charities. Founder Michael Dell, who turns 48 next month, is one of the richest people in the country, ranking 22nd on last year's Forbes 400 wealthiest Americans list, with estimated assets of $14.6 billion.
While the Austin tech scene has expanded to include other successful companies, Dell is the one that hit the financial home run that others aspire to.
Now Michael Dell is attempting to hit another financial grand slam -- this time by taking his company private in a massive buyout.
He is reported to be working with a private-equity investment firm, Silver Lake Partners, of Menlo Park, Calif., to put together the biggest leveraged buyout deal the country has seen since the financial crisis of 2008.
By all reports, the deal was making rapid progress by the end of the week. Silver Lake had lined up other investors and put together a group of four big bankers that were expected to supply about $15 billion in debt financing to make the buyout work.
Bloomberg news reported Friday that the proposed deal might be announced publicly this week. But it would still probably take at least a few more months -- maybe longer -- to complete the deal.
Dell Inc. hasn't commented on numerous reports about the deal last week, and it had no comment for this story.
As last week went on, more financial analysts acknowledged that the deal was likely to happen and that it had a decent chance of success.
"It makes sense for Dell to go private," said stock analyst Brian Marshall with ISI Group. He can "fix the company behind the scenes and emerge as a smaller, more profitable, faster growing player a few years from now."
Why is this happening now?
Dell Inc. is out of favor with stock market investors right now. It is a personal-computer-centric company in a world that has fallen in love with smartphones and tablets.
The company's revenue and profits are shrinking because the PC market is in the doldrums. Its stock price dropped 29 percent in 2012.
But all that could change in a few years if the company makes the right moves and completes its business reinvention project that is already under way.
More than one analyst has compared the Round Rock-based company to a banged-up race car. It needs time in the garage for repair work, they say, but it could re-emerge as a potential winner sometime later -- perhaps in three to five years.
Analysts say two main factors are driving the timing of the deal -- interest rates and the company's relatively low stock price.
Low interest rates mean that the interest expense on that estimated $15 billion loan for the buyout will be more manageable. Some analysts estimate the annual interest rate expense Dell might have to pay for such a loan would be in the range of $700 million to $800 million. That sounds like a big number, but it is only a fraction of the estimated $3.1 billion in "free cash flow" that analysts estimate Dell generated in the past year.
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