Sales of tech assets are on the rise

-by Thomas Rasmussen, Yulitza Peraza

At a time when both M&A volume and deal values have declined dramatically, the relative volume of asset sales continues to rise. There are two main contributors to this. First, companies are under increasing pressure to focus on their core operations, so they’re looking to divest underperforming business units. And second, cash-burning startups often find their venture backers unwilling to sink more money into them, resulting in wind-down sales of the intellectual property they had developed.

For the first quarter of 2008, the volume of asset sales represented some 15% of total announced transactions. That number doubled in the first quarter of 2009 and has even inched up a bit in April. About one out of every three transactions announced so far this year has been an asset sale.

For all the talk of unbridgeable valuation gaps, however, we would note that the buyers often get a sharp markdown on the price of the assets. Consider Artistdirect’s acquisition of SafeNet’s MediaSentry unit this month. SafeNet, which originally paid $20m for the division in 2005, wanted the MediaSentry assets off its books before the end of the first quarter, and Artistdirect’s new management was happy to fork over less than $1m for the unit. We understand that the deal closed within a few weeks. Or look at semiconductor startup Nethra Imaging, which picked up the assets of Ambric for an estimated $1m this month. Ambric had received an estimated $30m in funding, but when investors refused to step up with another round, the startup had little choice but to sell.

Asset sales spike

Period Volume of asset sales, as % of overall M&A
April 1-24, 2009 32.4%
Q1 2009 31.8%
Q4 2008 19.9%
Q3 2008 17.4%
Q2 2008 16.2%
Q1 2008 15.8%
Q4 2007 13.7%

Source: The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase