Bank of America has identified Lexington-based Lexmark International as a possible candidate for a leveraged buyout.
The printer maker was one of a handful of companies listed by the bank's researchers as possible targets for these types of deals, which involve taking on debt to help finance the acquisition.
It's another in a long series of rumors during the past several years of possible outside interest in buying Lexmark, which develops and manufactures laser and inkjet printers.
Lexmark spokesman Jerry Grasso said the company declines to comment on rumors and speculation, or on its stock.
The company's stock price has risen dramatically in recent months. In the middle of last year, the stock was hovering around $15 a share. On Tuesday, it closed at $36.82, up 5.53 percent from Monday.
The fact that the stock is trading at its 52-week high makes it attractive.
"These types of deals occur at market tops," said Tom Carpenter, vice president and senior equity analyst at Hilliard Lyons in Louisville.
Carpenter also noted Lexmark has significantly improved its printers during the past couple of years and focused on segments in which people print more.
Lexmark also is attractive, he said, because of the company's cash reserves, which are about $15 a share. A drawback, though, is the company's roughly $8 a share of long-term debt.
A great deal of the company's cash is overseas, and that has prevented Lexmark from bringing it to the United States to finance continued repurchases of its stock, because the company would face certain taxes to bring it back. Carpenter said he doubts the overseas money would be a barrier to the deal because "there are people smart enough to find a way around that."
Carpenter said the biggest barrier might be deciding on a price. He said a 25 percent to 30 percent premium on the stock price "would be a home run for shareholders."
He said any number of private equity firms might be interested in Lexmark. Private equity firms use the money invested by their clients to acquire stakes in other companies.
Before the recession, the number of buyouts of publicly traded companies by private equity firms had risen substantially. Generally, a private equity group operates the company for a time, seeks to make it more efficient and then sells the company or parts of it for a profit. The recession slowed down that movement, but Bank of America analysts noted in their report that the deals might return and be smaller in scope, perhaps less than $10 billion.
Lexmark's market capitalization is close to $3 billion.
Private equity firms also tend to eye companies with recurring revenue, which Lexmark boasts, Carpenter said. The company has recently announced some major deals to manage printing for large firms, including regional bank BB&T.
"The managed print services wins are very important because they are predictable recurring revenue streams, and investors and private equity firms love recurring revenue," Carpenter said.
The company already has a history with private equity. It was initially owned by a private equity firm — Clayton, Dubilier & Rice Inc. — when it was spun off from IBM in 1991. The company went public in 1995, and the buyout firm sold its last shares in 1998.