Taking stock

Pocketing equity as currency always makes a deal a little more dicey than a straight cash transaction. (Just ask Ted Turner, or any other shareholders – public or private – who got burned on post-sale stock distributions in the early part of this decade.) Those bitter memories – along with concerns about diluting existing shareholders – have pushed companies to hold on to their shares, rather than hand them out in acquisitions. Besides, many large tech companies are now on the other side of steep cost-reduction plans, which allows them to throw off hundreds of millions of dollars in free cash flow every quarter. That has swollen corporate treasuries to near record levels, in some cases.

Nonetheless, a few tech companies have been paying at least a part of their M&A bills with their own shares. In the three deals Omniture inked last year, the online business optimization vendor used its shares to cover more than half the cost of each deal. (The largest chunk of stock – $342m of equity to cover its $394m total purchase of Visual Sciences – is basically flat with the level where shares traded when Omniture closed the deal in mid-January.) Additionally, Ariba paid for half of its $101m purchase of Procuri with its stock. (Taking Ariba shares turned out to be a good bet for Procuri, since the stock has jumped 40% since the deal closed in mid-December.)

However, one deal that’s set to close at the end of business Thursday offers a reminder of the risks. Although Blue Coat Systems used all cash to buy Packeteer in its $268m purchase, it would have undoubtedly heard grumblings from Packeteer shareholders if it had done a stock swap. The reason? Just a month after announcing the deal, Blue Coat posted weak quarterly results and offered a tepid outlook for its business. That knocked the stock down 20% in one trading session. In this kind of uncertain market, cash may well be king. 

Recent all-cash strategic deals

Date Acquirer Target Amount of cash
May 2007 Thomson Reuters $17.2bn
Jan. 2008 Oracle BEA Systems $8.5bn
Oct. 2007 Nokia Navteq $8.1bn
Oct. 2007 SAP Business Objects $6.8bn
May 2007 Microsoft aQuantive $6.4bn
Nov. 2007 IBM Cognos $5bn

Source: The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase