A spring sputter for tech M&A

by Brenon Daly

The momentum that had sustained the high-rolling tech M&A market through the opening quarter of 2019 petered out in April. Spending in the just-completed month plummeted to a paltry $15.4bn, just one-third the average of the first three months of the year, according to 451 Researchs M&A KnowledgeBase. More significantly, the total value of tech and telecom acquisitions announced in April stands as the lowest monthly total in the M&A KnowledgeBase in four years.

Last month’s slump started at the top. Buyers in April announced just four tech transactions valued at more than $1bn. That’s the fewest big-ticket prints announced in any month since the fall of 2017, and just half the number that acquirers were putting up each month in 2018. Further, the deals that did get done last month had a distinctly down-market look to them.

Rather than the expansion-minded and expensively priced purchases that acquirers inked last year, the billion-dollar deals in April came back down to earth, as cost-cutting consolidation emerged as the main driver of these large transactions. Our data shows the four companies acquired for more than $1bn last month were each relatively mature assets that all traded for less than 2.5x trailing sales.

The largest purchase announced last month demonstrates that trend very clearly. French ad agency Publicis once again turned to M&A to boost its otherwise sagging top line. It paid $4.4bn, or just 2x sales, for the 9,000-person marketing services firm Epsilon. Similarly, Siris Capital Group took 30-year-old printing company Electronics for Imagining (EFI) private at just 1.4x times last year’s revenue. EFI hadn’t really grown since 2016, a trend that was forecast to continue this year.

Posted in M&A