Small-time means good time for M&A

-Contact Thomas Rasmussen

Smaller shoppers are increasingly perusing the proverbial deal aisle. As our 2008 Corpdev Outlook Survey conducted in December indicates, 2009 looks to be the year of small-time shoppers. When we delved further into the data to try to get a feel for what corporate development officials from various companies are thinking, we observed an interesting trend: While large firms said they were more likely to do divestures than acquisitions, small companies were significantly more bullish on M&A. (For our purposes, we classified small firms as those with fewer than 250 employees and large firms as those with 2,500 or more employees). In fact, it seems that large acquirers are a bit more wary of the economic realities than their smaller rivals, with some even leaving the market entirely. Corporate development officials at large companies were twice as likely to say the current economic recession is ‘very likely’ to depress deal flow compared to their brethren at small companies.

Anecdotal evidence of this trend reinforces that sentiment. Take Pegasus Imaging Corp, a privately held, employee-owned company founded in 1991 that is recognized for its host of enterprise and consumer-imaging products but mostly for its JPEG-imaging compression technology. After having been out of the market since acquiring its competitor TMSSequoia four years ago, it picked up Tasman Software and AccuSoft’s imaging business last week for an estimated combined cash value of about $30m. The small, privately held shop told us that the current environment is ripe for M&A, and we expect the two acquisitions to be the first of many this year. Meanwhile, serial shopper Avnet may be slowing down, despite having just announced its first deal of the year (last week, the mid-cap company spent an estimated $30m for Nippon Denso Industry, an electronics distributor based in Tokyo). Avnet announced six deals worth $385m in 2008, but recently indicated to us that it will take a much more cautious approach to shopping this year.

Industry makeup of respondents

Industry Percentage
Infrastructure software 32.0%
Applications software 21.3%
Systems/hardware/semi 13.3%
Other 9.3%
Mobile 8.0%
Networking 6.7%
Services 5.3%
Telecommunications 4.0%

Source: The 451 Group Tech Corpdev Outlook Survey, December 2008