And the Golden Tombstone goes to…

Contact: Brenon Daly

If you have a hard time thinking of a truly blockbuster tech deal last year, you’re not alone. Even people who buy companies for a living struggled to single out any 2017 transaction.

As we do every year, we asked in our 451 Research Corporate Development Outlook Survey for dealmakers to look at the handiwork of their peers around the tech industry and select what they thought was the most significant transaction of the year. Survey respondents work at tech companies of all varieties, but regardless of their industry, the majority of their picks each year usually settle on one or two high-profile deals.

That wasn’t at all the case for our most recent survey. For starters, the pool of 2017 nominees was unprecedentedly broad and shallow. Corporate buyers put forward a record 12 separate transactions for the deal of the year.

From that long list, however, we don’t actually have a winner. Or rather, we have three winners. For the first time in more than a decade of giving out our Golden Tombstone award, we have a tie. Fittingly enough for the diffuse deals that characterized last year, we have a tie between three transactions: Intel’s $15.3bn reach for Mobileye, Cisco outbidding the public market for AppDynamics and Broadcom’s unsolicited bid for Qualcomm. We’re still working on cutting the Golden Tombstone into three pieces so each of the winners can have their own chunk of M&A immortality.

SS&C pays $4.9bn for DST amid a swell of big BPO deals 

Contact: Scott Denne

Business process outsourcing (BPO) deals jumped to a record total in 2017, despite an overall decline in tech M&A. Today’s announcement that SS&C Technologies will buy its competitor, DST Systems, for $4.9bn sets up the category for another big year.

According to 451 Research’s M&A KnowledgeBase, BPO targets fetched $8.8bn, double the previous year’s total, as the sector saw more big-ticket purchases. That trend continues with the sale of DST, a provider of software and services to investment and wealth management companies, which marks the largest BPO transaction since Xerox’s 2009 pickup of ACS for $6.4bn. With today’s acquisition, there have now been nine BPO deals valued above $1bn in the past decade. Five of them have come in the past 18 months.

SS&C’s purchase values DST at $5.4bn, or 2.7x trailing revenue, a multiple that’s lower than SS&C’s two previous largest acquisitions – Advent Software ($2.5bn) and GlobeOp ($895m). A heftier services offering and slimmer margins are likely to blame for the difference in multiple – SS&C had a 15% operating margin last quarter, compared with DST’s 10%.

Still, DST is commanding a premium that’s well above that of a typical BPO vendor, continuing a trend of rising valuations in the space. According to the M&A KnowledgeBase, the median multiple among BPO targets last year was 2.4x, a number that in itself was extraordinary seeing as the median multiple for such transactions rarely clocks in above 1x in any given year.

For more real-time information on tech M&A, follow us on Twitter @451TechMnA.

To detractors, Trump is a buffoon; to dealmakers, he’s a boon

Contact: Brenon Daly

Despite all the ‘fire and fury’ around President Donald Trump, when it comes to tech deals, the president is good for business. At least that’s the view of a majority of buyers at some of the largest and most-active companies in the market.

By a more than two-to-one margin, respondents to the 451 Research Tech Corporate Development Outlook Survey said the Trump White House will help spur M&A in 2018. Specifically, 59% said the current administration will ‘stimulate’ dealmaking this year, compared with just 23% saying it will ‘inhibit’ dealmaking.

Somewhat surprisingly, the nearly six out of 10 respondents who forecast a ‘Trump bump’ in the tech M&A market is 10 percentage points higher than our previous survey. The increase over the past year in Trump’s standing among dealmakers stands in sharp contrast to the president’s overall popularity, which has dropped to record lows over that same time. Since Trump took over as CEO of America, the percentage of people who disapprove of the president has steadily risen from 41% to 55%, according to Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight, which calculates the figure based on a weighted blend of numerous polls.

Even with the divergent views about the White House, corporate acquirers mostly told us the overall economic picture isn’t really snagging deals these days. See the full 451 Research Tech Corporate Development Outlook Survey for more insights from many of the main buyers in the tech M&A market.

 

Tech companies have long, long shopping lists

Contact: Brenon Daly

Despite a lackluster year for tech M&A in 2017, corporate acquirers overwhelmingly forecast that their companies will be looking to shop again this year. More than six out of 10 (62%) respondents to the annual 451 Research Tech Corporate Development Outlook Survey indicated that their firms would be more active with acquisitions in 2018. That was the most-bullish outlook since the end of the recent recession, coming in more than three times higher than the 18% of corporate buyers who expect their companies to step out of the market. (To see the full 451 Research report, click here.)

The company-specific outlook, which came from major acquirers across the tech landscape, is far more buoyant than their view of the broader M&A market, however. Looking ahead at the overall dealmaking environment for corporate buyers, only slightly more than four out of 10 respondents (43%) said it would be more favorable in 2018 than it was in 2017. On the other side, fully one-quarter (25%) predicted that general tech M&A conditions would deteriorate this year.

Although the broad-market outlook – with slightly more than four out of 10 respondents projecting an improved M&A environment in the coming year – ticked higher from last year’s survey, it is still lower than the two surveys before that, when tech acquisition activity did indeed hit multiyear highs. In those two previous 451 Research Tech Corporate Development Outlook Surveys, slightly more than half of the respondents forecast a favorable environment for their fellow strategic buyers. In both 2015 and 2016, spending on tech deals topped $500bn for the first time since the internet bubble burst, according to 451 Research’s M&A KnowledgeBase.

To see what else corporate acquirers told us about their financial rivals (PE firms), valuations and even what President Donald Trump is doing to the business of M&A, click here.
 

Every reason to shop, yet tech companies still empty-handed

Contact: Brenon Daly

As tech companies said goodbye to 2017, most of them did so with fond memories of the past year. Public companies nearly all saw steady gains on Wall Street, with more than a few hitting record highs. Record amounts of venture money flowed to startups, while more-established companies looked ahead to their already-stuffed treasuries getting even fuller when the benefits of the recently passed tax program kick in. And probably most importantly, customers are saying they are ready to spend on tech like they haven’t been since the recent recession.

In a November 2017 survey by 451 Research’s Voice of the Connected User Landscape, fully 50% of the 872 respondents said their company is giving a ‘green light’ for IT spending. That was the highest reading since 2007, and 13 basis points higher than the average survey response for the month of November for the previous five years. During that 2012-16 period, in fact, respondents unanimously said their companies were more likely to cut their IT spending than increase it.

All in all, the end of last year was a good time for publicly traded tech companies to do business. And they did, except in one crucial area: M&A. Tech acquirers announced one-quarter fewer deals in Q4 2017 compared with the final quarter of the previous three years, according to 451 Research’s M&A KnowledgeBase. Meanwhile, spending on tech and telco acquisitions in the October-December period slumped to the lowest quarterly level since Q2 2013.

Historically, there has been a relatively tight correlation between overall IT budgets, company valuations and M&A activity. To some degree, activity in all three of those markets is determined by a single shared characteristic (confidence), so it follows that there would be some interdependence in the trio. And yet, as we step from 2017 to 2018, that connection appears to be breaking down. Tech companies are enjoying record levels of confidence from customers and investors, yet are rather timid when it comes to shopping.

CFIUS stomps another

Contact: Scott Denne

The US government scuttles yet another acquisition of a US company by a Chinese firm, helping to deplete a diminishing channel of tech M&A activity. The failure of Ant Financial to move its $880m purchase of MoneyGram past the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) cuts in half an already dwindling amount of US-bound tech M&A from China.

Such deals soared to $15bn in 2016, according to 451 Research’s M&A KnowledgeBase. But last year’s deal value dropped precipitously as acquirers faced tighter capital controls at home and a more protectionist administration in the US. Opposition from CFIUS has recently reduced 2016’s total. Orient Hontai Capital, a China-based private equity firm, abandoned its $1.4bn acquisition of adtech company AppLovin late last year when it couldn’t get past CFIUS. In September, President Trump, following CFIUS’s recommendation, blocked Canyon Bridge Capital’s $1.1bn acquisition of Lattice Semiconductor.

Now that Ant Financial has pulled its proposed purchase of MoneyGram, 2017’s total for China-US tech M&A sits barely above $1bn, and half of that comes via the pending sale of semiconductor testing vendor Xcerra, which recently refiled its application with CFIUS to allow for more time to review. The outlook for China-US deal-making is becoming exceedingly dim. In the September M&A Leaders’ Survey from 451 Research and Morrison & Foerster , 79% of respondents told us that such deal activity would decline under the Trump administration, up from 65% who anticipated a decline in our April survey.


For more real-time information on tech M&A, follow us on Twitter @451TechMnA.

Mainstays missing in the tech M&A market

Contact: Brenon Daly

A number of the mainstay acquirers that had helped boost the tech M&A market to recent record levels stepped out of the market in 2017, clipping spending on deals by more than one-third compared with 2016 and 2015. The value of tech and telco acquisitions around the globe in the just-completed year slumped to $325bn, after topping a half-trillion dollars in each of the two previous years, according to 451 Research’s M&A KnowledgeBase. Last year’s M&A spending ranks as the lowest in four years.

The primary reason for the drop in 2017 is that tech giants – the companies that had set the tone in the overall M&A market over the past decade – didn’t shop like they once did. For instance, Oracle and SAP have, collectively, announced 16 acquisitions valued at more than $1bn since 2010, according to our M&A KnowledgeBase. However, only one of those deals printed last year. (More broadly, Oracle took an uncharacteristically long eight-month hiatus from deal-making in 2017. The prolonged absence of corporate acquirers such as Oracle was one of the primary contributors to last year’s overall M&A volume slumping to a four-year low, according to our count.)

Also weighing a bit on 2017’s totals is that free-spending Chinese buyers, who had turned tech into a favorite shopping ground, all but disappeared from the top end of the market last year. Our M&A KnowledgeBase lists just one $1bn-plus acquisition by a China-based buyer in 2017, down from nine transactions in 2016 and seven in 2015. Currency restrictions imposed by China’s authorities in early 2017 drastically reduced the ability of Chinese companies to put money to work outside their country. Also, the simmering trade fight and sparring over currency policy between Beijing and Washington DC slowed M&A between the world’s two largest economies.

On the other hand, last year saw the full emergence of a new, powerful – and largely underappreciated – force in the tech M&A market: private equity (PE). As corporate acquirers retreated, financial acquirers accelerated. PE firms announced a record 876 transactions last year, more than twice the number they did just a half-decade ago, according to 451 Research’s M&A KnowledgeBase. Deal volume, which has increased for five consecutive years, jumped nearly 25% in 2017 from 2016, even as the number of overall tech acquisitions posted a mid-teens decline year on year.

Daimler prefers sharing 

Contact: Scott Denne

Daimler has topped off an industrious 2017 with the acquisition of Uber rival Chauffeur Prive. Not only has the German automaker printed more deals than its peers, its M&A strategy highlights the alternate route it’s taking toward the industry’s impending technological changes. While many automakers have spread investments across autonomous vehicles and ride-sharing apps, Daimler has fastened on the latter category.

The purchase of Chauffeur Prive lands Daimler’s ride-hailing business a French outpost, adding to services it picked up in Greece, Romania and other locales across four such deals this year and eight since 2014. It also printed two additional transactions this year in related categories with the acquisitions of a mobile payments company and a location-based social network provider, and joined a consortium of automakers with the purchase of Nokia Maps back in 2015.

Compare that with Ford Motor and General Motors, which have bought five autonomous vehicle makers between them and each nabbed one ride-hailing app in the past two years, according to 451 Research’s M&A KnowledgeBase. That’s not to say Daimler doesn’t plan to develop autonomous cars. Rather, it suggests that the Mercedes-Benz parent views ride-hailing and -sharing apps not as a new sales channel for its cars but as a new sales model. When automakers do roll out fully autonomous vehicles at scale – something 451 Research expects to happen in about five years – Daimler will have an extra lane to monetization.

For more real-time information on tech M&A, follow us on Twitter @451TechMnA.

For PE, $20bn deals are so 2007

Contact: Brenon Daly

Looking to put its mountainous cash holdings to work, private equity (PE) has become a velocity play. Deal-hungry financial acquirers have scaled back the size of the checks they write, but have compensated for that by writing a lot more checks.

This year, for instance, buyout shops have put up twice as many $1bn+ tech transactions as they did during the pre-credit crisis peak, but only half as many big ones. As PE firms lower their sights, their current overall M&A spending is coming up well short of the amount they threw around in the previous generation.

To understand this shift in price preference, it’s useful to compare PE dealmaking at the top end of the market in 2017, which will see an overall record number of sponsor-backed transactions, with the previous high-water year for PE spending in 2007. This year, 451 Research’s M&A KnowledgeBase has recorded 24 acquisitions by PE firms valued at $1bn or more, with total spending on those deals of $69bn. In contrast, 2007 saw fewer than half that number of billion-dollar transactions (11 vs. 24), but spending on those big-ticket deals was one-quarter higher ($85bn vs. $69bn).

A decade ago, buyout shops were looking to bag elephants. The prices of the two largest transactions in 2007 were both a full $10bn higher than this year’s biggest PE print, according to the M&A KnowledgeBase. (And for the record, this year’s sole buyout blockbuster – the late-September PE-led $17.9bn purchase of Toshiba’s flash memory business – looks more like the consortium deals we saw last decade than the PE transactions we’ve seen recently.)

For the most part, however, those blockbuster deals from last decade, with their 11-digit price tags, haven’t delivered the hoped-for returns. PE firms are now hoping that by going small, they can get a bigger bang.

Oracle raises its construction cloud with $1.2bn deal 

Contact: Scott Denne

Oracle has stepped off the M&A sidelines with the $1.2bn acquisition of construction software company Aconex, ending its longest dry spell since 2004. In buying Aconex, Oracle doubles what it has spent building its construction and engineering software business, zeroing in on a vertical that’s ripe for cloud applications.

Aconex brings to Oracle collaboration software for construction projects that will become part of a unit that already includes project portfolio management and payment management software that it gained from its purchases of Primavera Software and Textura – a pair of deals that cost it just over $1bn, according to 451 Research’s M&A KnowledgeBase.

 

Today’s transaction values Aconex at 9.4x trailing revenue, nearly two turns higher than where Textura landed. The difference is likely attributable to Aconex’s broader portfolio, along with its accelerating international sales. At the time of its 2014 IPO, the target’s sales in its home market – Australia and New Zealand – made up half of its business. That has now shrunk to less than one-third of revenue amid several years of topline growth above 20%.

Oracle has built several vertical-specific businesses, although it has inked more acquisitions in support of its construction division than other verticals. Unlike energy, restaurants and retail, most of the work in construction happens outside an office, store or other fixed location, so the expansion of cloud and mobile technologies brings with it new applications, not just the replacement of old ones. The downside to the business is that much construction software is bought on a per-project basis, rather than an enterprise license. Aconex has pushed against that barrier, as its subscription revenue now accounts for 46% of sales, up from 34% three years ago.

For more real-time information on tech M&A, follow us on Twitter @451TechMnA.