November 6, 2018 / 5:19 PM / 7 days ago

EXCLUSIVE-Buyout firm Thoma Bravo approaches Symantec about acquisition -sources

(Adds background on the company, share reaction)

By Liana B. Baker and Greg Roumeliotis

Nov 6 (Reuters) - Private equity firm Thoma Bravo has approached Symantec Corp to express interest in acquiring the Norton antivirus software maker, people familiar with the matter told Reuters on Tuesday.

A deal could be the largest leveraged buyout this year, based on Symantec’s market value of about $15 billion and total debt of about $5 billion.

There is no certainty that the discussions between Thoma Bravo and Symantec will lead to a deal, the sources said, asking not to be identified because the matter is confidential.

Symantec declined to comment. Thoma Bravo did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Symantec shares jumped as much as 18 percent after Reuters reported the approach, and were trading up $14.11 at $22.89 in early afternoon trade.

Private equity firms Bain Capital and Silver Lake are also investors in Symantec. They could choose to participate in the deal as equity investors, as opposed to cashing out, according to one of the sources.

Technology has been a rich playing field for private equity in the past few years, most notably with computer maker Dell Inc’s almost $25 billion deal to go private in 2013.

TUMULTUOUS YEAR

Thoma Bravo’s overtures are the latest twist in a tumultuous year for Symantec, which has been juggling the needs of individual users and enterprise customers.

The company reached a settlement with Starboard Value in September that gave the activist hedge fund three representatives on the company’s board.

It has been seeking to regain investor confidence following an internal accounting investigation and weak revenue forecasts. In August, it said it would cut 8 percent of its workforce worldwide.

Symantec launched a whistleblower investigation in May after a former employee raised concerns about some of its accounting practices, prompting the company’s board to hire an independent counsel and other advisers to assist in the probe.

The company ended the four-month accounting investigation in September, saying it would not restate financial results except for a specific $13 million transaction.

Thoma Bravo has been seeking to rapidly consolidate the cybersecurity sector. Last month, it announced a $2.1 billion acquisition of Imperva Inc, and on Monday it announced the acquisition of another cybersecurity firm called Veracode from Broadcom Inc for $950 million.

It has also done deals with Symantec in the past, acquiring its web certificates business last year for close to $1 billion.

Symantec became more focused on cybersecurity after it sold its Veritas storage unit for about $7.4 billion to private equity firm Carlyle Group LP in 2016. (Reporting by Liana B. Baker and Greg Roumeliotis in New York Editing by Bill Rigby)

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