In tech M&A, it’s go big or go home

Contact: Brenon Daly

Tech buyers aren’t actually doing much buying so far this year, but when they close the deals, they have been big purchases. At least that’s the early read on deal flow so far in 2013. To put some numbers on the activity: Through the first five weeks of this year, the number of announced transactions by tech buyers around the globe was running about 15% lower than the comparable level in either 2011 or 2012.

However, the total spending from January 1-February 8 hit a whopping $55bn, which is higher than we would typically see for an entire quarter. Indeed, the year-to-date total is 2.5 times higher than the $22bn recorded for the same five-week period in the two previous years combined.

The surge in spending is being led by a flurry of big-ticket purchases. So far in 2013, we have tallied eight transactions valued at more than $1bn, up from just one in the same period in 2012 and four in 2011. Topping this year’s list, of course, is the proposed $24.4bn buyout of Dell, which stands as the largest announced tech deal since mid-2007. Also of note, Liberty Global reached across the Atlantic for Virgin Media Group in a $16bn acquisition and Oracle announced the $2bn purchase of networking vendor Acme Packet.

As is evidenced by those transactions, however, the activity at the top end of the market is hardly what we would call precedent-setting. (The Dell buyout – with the cash and equity participation of a company founder, plus a $2bn loan from Microsoft – is hardly a model for other take-privates.) Below those mega-deals, we aren’t seeing many signs of strength in activity that could sustain a recovery in tech M&A for the full year. Keep in mind, too, that we’re coming out of 2012, a year where we saw the value of tech transactions drop 20% from 2011 to end even slightly below the level of 2010.

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