(Bloomberg Opinion) -- Not long ago, it was difficult for payments processors to avoid being taken over. Worldpay was sold by Royal Bank of Scotland Plc in the crisis, taken public and bought again in eight years. Nordic payments group Nets went from being owned by a group of banks to private equity ownership, to public markets, before going back into private equity hands.
But Ingenico Group SA missed the wave. French bank Natixis SA has said that talks with the Paris-based group won't lead to a full-blown takeover offer.
Ingenico’s shares are down almost 40 percent since February, leaving it with a bite-sized market value of 4.1 billion euros ($4.7 billion).
Why is it still on the shelf? The company has arguably been too slow to adapt to the growth of digital payments, leaving it heavily weighted toward handheld credit-card readers. And despite its size, a full-blown acquisition was probably too big for Natixis, whose own payments business is quite small.
Lingering hopes a deal might materialize aren’t irrational. Back in October, Ingenico revealed it had received more than one approach. What's more, while Natixis has ruled out a bid, some other form of combination, perhaps involving buying Natixis’s payments business in return for a slug of Ingenico shares, still looks possible.
But Ingenico needs to prepare for the long haul. The removal of Philippe Lazare as chairman and CEO earlier this month at least lays the grounds for a revived standalone strategy. His role has been split between dealmaker Bernard Bourigeaud, founder of French IT services group Atos SE, and former Visa Europe CEO Nicolas Huss – a credible partnership.
There is no obvious big takeover opportunity for Ingenico, but the fragmented industry at least offers smaller targets for consolidation. The French company is still an obvious candidate for a private equity firm looking to roll up smaller payments players into something more meaningful.
Ingenico shares trade at about 13 times next year's estimated earnings, against Worldpay's 20 times. Ingenico tried and failed to acquire Worldpay before its IPO in 2015. A deal would have been a stretch. But investors will wonder what might have been.
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Chris Hughes is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering deals. He previously worked for Reuters Breakingviews, as well as the Financial Times and the Independent newspaper.
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