A double-dip for tech M&A

Contact: Brenon Daly

Three-quarters of the way through 2012, tech M&A activity is looking a lot like recession-plagued 2009. Spending on deals around the globe so far this year has slid to just $115bn, a decline of more than one-third compared with the same period last year and 20% lower than Q1-Q3 2010. The dealmaking slump comes amid a solid bull market for equities, with the Nasdaq up some 20% so far this year.

Looking ahead, the rate for the first three quarters puts the full-year 2012 on track for about $150bn in total M&A spending. Assuming that pace holds, that would roughly match the level of 2009 and would represent less than half the amount spent on tech acquisitions in each year from 2005-08. (We’ll have a full report on Q3 M&A activity in tomorrow’s Daily 451.)

The disconnect between the M&A and stock markets, which historically have been tightly correlated, suggests that activity in one of the markets doesn’t necessarily reflect fundamentals. If we had to guess which one is less rooted in reality, we would probably start with the Nasdaq, which has been trading above 3,000 since early August. The tech-heavy index hasn’t been at that rarified level in 12 years.

And yet, the run has come even as corporate earnings rates have slowed, the European debt picture remains unresolved and the US economy faces huge uncertainty around both elections and the potential expiration of measures that have stimulated the economy in recent years (the so-called ‘fiscal cliff’).

Of all the concerns that are keeping corporate buyers out of the market right now, we suspect that the lackluster earnings outlook is the main reason. We expect to hear more about that in two weeks or so, when the third-quarter earnings season kicks off in earnest.

But as one indication of how the reports might go, consider that a recent survey by ChangeWave Research, a service of 451 Research, of more than 2,600 corporate employees indicated that one of every three (33%) predicted that Q3 sales at their company would come in below plan, compared with just one in five (19%) who projected that their company would top expectations. The percentage seeing sales at their companies falling short has risen steadily throughout 2012. On the other side, the percentage seeing stronger-than-expected sales in Q3 is at its lowest level since the summer of 2009.

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