Tech M&A spending takes big hit in third quarter

Tech mergers and acquisitions fell by a third compared to a year ago. Decline fueled by credit tightening and havoc on Wall Street, says a new report by The 451 Group.

Dawn Kawamoto Former Staff writer, CNET News
Dawn Kawamoto covered enterprise security and financial news relating to technology for CNET News.
Dawn Kawamoto
3 min read

Update 11:50 a.m. PDT, with additional M&A data from investment banking services firm The Jordan, Edmiston Group.

Tech mergers and acquisitions took a dive in the third quarter, with spending falling by a third compared with the same period last year, as Wall Street investment banks and financial institutions were rocked to the core, according to a report released Wednesday by The 451 Group.

Tech deals fell to 691 transactions with a total value of $37 billion in the third quarter, down from 822 deals and a value of $58 billion a year ago. That marked the second consecutive year that third-quarter M&A activity declined.

According to Brenon Daly, a financial analyst with The 451 Group:

There are a number of reasons for the muted deal flow, starting with the barren conditions in the credit market. That knocked the number of leveraged buyouts from 36 during the third quarter of last year to just 12 this year. And while the private equity firms have billions in equity capital, they have been holding onto it tightly--even as some tech companies across the board have seen their valuations cut 20-30 percent.

Private equity firms weren't the only ones holding back. Technology titans known for their use of strategic acquisitions also curtailed their activity during the third quarter, according to the report. Google, which has seen its share price take a tumble, signed off on four deals since the start of the year, compared with 14 transactions during the same period a year ago.

And IBM, meanwhile, has only acquired one company this year, compared with three companies within the same time period last year.

Buyers are also scaling back on the amount they're spending on a per deal basis. During the quarter, only six deals worth in excess of $1 billion were announced in the September quarter, compared with 11 such deals in the previous year and 22 deals in the same period in 2006, according to the report.

Advisers to prospective buyers are shaken because of investment companies like Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch disappearing off Wall Street to financial institutions like Washington Mutual, the nation's largest thrift, having to find a buyer themselves.

Daly noted in his report:

Besides the uncertainty concerning the advisers that help support the transactions, there's also doubt about the institutions themselves right now, which complicates deals. Consider the highly unusual step taken this week by JDA Software to shore up confidence in its ability to pull off its planned $461 million acquisition of supply chain management vendor i2 Technologies. The company issued a press release confirming the commitment of its financial backers to finance the deal, as it added another bank to the syndicate. (The market began to bet against JDA's ability to finance the planned deal because Wachovia, an ailing bank that eventually got sold to Citigroup, was one of the two banks on the ticket to provide the debt. Wells Fargo has since been added.)

And as the fourth quarter begins, the outlook for the full year is one that is expected to post a drop in M&A spending--which would end four consecutive years of annual increases.

Meanwhile, investment banking services firm The Jordan, Edmiston Group on Wednesday issued its nine-month M&A report that reflected growth in the number of deals among some technology-related sectors but steep declines in the valuations of those deals.

Within the database information services sector, the number of deals rose to 36, up 63.6 percent compared with the same period a year ago. However, the value of all deals dropped nearly 60 percent to $8.6 billion.

The marketing and interactive services sector was hit with a similar situation, where the number of deals rose to 205, up 13.3 percent, while the value dropped 64 percent to $7.3 billion.

The online media and technology sector, however, posted a decline in both the number of deals and value during the past nine months, according to the report. M&A deals in this sector fell 6 percent to 218 and the value dropped 6.9 percent to approximately $7.7 billion.