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Intel-McAfee Fallout: Who Will Buy Symantec?

McAfee rival is now in play and will likely garner attention from a long list of possible suitors.

Symantec shares rose sharply Thursday as investors bet the security software vendor is next in line for a takeover following Intel's proposed $7.68 billion buyout of rival McAfee.

Symantec closed up 6.20%, to $13.37, in Thursday trading and was poised to open higher Friday.

Intel's deal to acquire McAfee is driven by the company's desire to offer PC and mobile computing platforms in which security is tightly integrated at the chip level. The likely candidates to take out Symantec are diversified tech vendors that would be similarly well position to complement their existing portfolios with a brand-name security offering.

IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Oracle, and Microsoft fit the bill in that regard.

On the other hand, Intel has emphasized that the McAfee buyout is in no small part driven by the chipmaker's wish to become a leader in mobile security. That means device makers like HTC, Motorola, or Nokia could have an eye on Symantec, as could mobile OS developers such as Google or even Apple.

How much could Symantec fetch? Based on the Intel-McAfee deal, which values McAfee at about 4x revenue, Symantec could be bought out for as much as $24 billion given 2009 non-GAAP sales of roughly $6 billion.

McAfee shares, meanwhile, gained 57% Thursday to close at $47.01—a sign that investors believe Intel's $48 per share offer will pass muster with shareholders and regulatory authorities. Intel shares fell 3.52%, to $18.90, on concerns that the McAfee acquisition will take an earnings toll on the company.

Still, analysts believe Intel in the long run can leverage its commanding presence in the PC processor market to boost McAfee's sales. One scenario might see Intel bundling McAfee security offerings with every chip it supplies to computer manufacturers.

Intel officials said they believe security software needs to be tightly coupled with processors for it to be truly effective against a growing range of viruses, malware, and spyware.

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