Barely a ripple in the pool of tech M&A buyers

Contact: Brenon Daly

New companies are constantly wading into the tech buying pool. As welcome as those new entrants are, however, their arrival has barely caused a ripple in the overall tech M&A market. Unconventional buyers – including retailers looking to jumpstart online sales and consumer product vendors looking to digitally connect their wares – have come up far short in offsetting the dealmaking absence of the mainstay tech acquirers. The resulting void of several hundred transactions has left 2017 on track for the lowest overall tech M&A volume in four years, according to 451 Research’s M&A KnowledgeBase.

Already this year, the M&A KnowledgeBase lists several first tech deals from well-known names from outside the tech industry such as IKEA, Albertsons, Signet Jewelers and Whirlpool. These debutants join other non-tech giants that have recently reached for startups, including Bed Bath & Beyond, Hudsons Bay Company, Unilever and Deere & Company.

Given that digital deals by analog companies tend to be viewed as ancillary to their businesses, they will likely never have the same M&A pace of tech vendors themselves. For instance, we noted in our recent Q3 report on tech M&A that heavy machinery manufacturer Deere & Company, which bought a tiny machine-learning startup in early September, had gone about three years since its previous tech transaction. In the interim, other acquirers inked more than 11,000 tech deals, according to the M&A KnowledgeBase.

As these non-tech buyers dabble in deals, the bellwether acquirers have dramatically slowed their pace. Consider the recent activity of some of the companies that have traditionally set the tone in the tech M&A market. Salesforce has put up just one print so far this year. Serial acquirer Oracle hasn’t announced an acquisition in six months. IBM is averaging a deal every other month in 2017, just half the rate it acquired companies in both 2016 and 2015.

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