Sailing around the market with Cisco

Contact: Brenon Daly

There are a lot of ways to chart the pickup in M&A activity over the course of 2009. In our recently published M&A Outlook, we cover a lot of the empirical indications, including the fact that spending on deals in the second half of 2009 is tracking 50% higher than in the first half of the year, as well as that the median valuation for fourth-quarter transactions is the highest we’ve seen in the year since the credit crisis erupted.

But our favorite way to encapsulate the changes between the climate a year ago and right now isn’t through data but through anecdote. (Of course, there are those who joke that ‘data’ is just the plural of ‘anecdote.’) Last year, we recall Cisco Systems’ CEO John Chambers ominously remarking that the economy was in ‘uncharted waters.’ Cisco is often considered a bellwether for the broader tech industry, and the company has been a particularly active shopper. Over the past five years, Cisco has spent more than $20bn to buy its way into new markets.

Not that Cisco – or any other company, for that matter – was doing much of that in early 2009. Since then, however, the waters have gotten more navigable. That certainty has helped Cisco step back in the market, with a pair of $3bn transactions as well as its $183m pickup of on-demand security firm ScanSafe. We suspect that signals like that may well encourage other corporate buyers to perhaps at least revisit some of the deals that were put on pause earlier this year. Merely working through that backlog could get M&A off to a strong start in 2010.