HP buys big

Contact: Brenon Daly

Earlier this week, Hewlett-Packard closed its $3.1bn acquisition of 3Com. It was a significant shot at the company’s new rival Cisco Systems, adding additional networking and security products to HP’s ProCurve portfolio while also dramatically increasing its business in Asia (3Com generates roughly half its sales in China). The deal was announced on November 11, and closed on Monday.

What’s interesting is that HP, which was once a fairly steady dealmaker, has been out of the market since that purchase. Its rivals, however, haven’t been on the sidelines. In the five months since HP announced the 3Com buy, IBM has inked five deals, Dell has announced two transactions and Cisco has picked up one company. Of course, some of HP’s inactivity could be chalked up to its efforts to digest 3Com, which stands as the company’s fourth-largest acquisition. (On the other side, Cisco knocked out a pair of $3bn purchases in just two weeks in the month before HP reached for 3Com.)

But we understand from a couple of different sources that although HP is looking to do fewer deals, they will be larger. The shift has actually been taking place for some time at the company. In 2007, like a number of cash-rich tech giants, HP was basically knocking out a purchase each month. That pace slowed to just five deals in 2008, including the landmark acquisition of services giant EDS. Last year, HP bought just two other companies besides 3Com. It looks like the company, which is tracking to more than $120bn in sales this year, has realized that the big get bigger by buying big.

A thaw in the market

Contact: Brenon Daly

In recent weeks, there’s been a lot of talk about a thaw in the once-frozen M&A market. While that’s true for overall activity, it’s also turning out to be true for specific deals that for one reason or another found themselves on ice at some point. Whether the transaction originally froze because of financing, regulation or pricing, a few of the notable deals are now looking like they’ll get done. That warming trend in dealmaking stands in sharp contrast to the climate at the beginning of the year. The Ice Age that spanned the first few months of 2009 is the main reason why total M&A spending for this year is likely to come in at just half the level it was in 2008.

Among the transactions that have been reheated in recent weeks: JDA Software’s consolidation play for i2, the sale of once-hot-but-now-cold 3Com and Cisco Systems warming up to the shareholders of Tandberg, who had given the networking giant a Nordic brush-off in its first bid for the videoconferencing company. (Incidentally, the additional $400m that Cisco will kick in for Tandberg will deplete its overseas cash stash by a whopping 1.3%.) What’s interesting in this trio of deals is that all of them involve the target company pocketing more money than was offered in an earlier proposed transaction. That’s certainly a change in the climate from this time last year, when we were writing about bidders ‘recalibrating’ their offers lower.

Profiting from the battle for the datacenter

Contact: Brenon Daly

Although the battle between Hewlett-Packard and Cisco Systems over outfitting datacenters is still playing out, some winners have already emerged. First and foremost, the shareholders of 3Com have benefitted tremendously from the turf war between the two tech titans. On Wednesday, HP said it is picking up 3Com for $3.1bn, bolstering its ProCurve lineup with 3Com’s switches and routers, which are Cisco’s core products.

Terms call for HP to hand over $7.90 in cash for each share of 3Com. That’s roughly 50% higher than 3Com shares garnered in an unsuccessful buyout two years ago and nearly four times the price of 3Com stock just one year ago. Additionally, it means that anyone who bought shares in 3Com over the past half-decade will be above water on their holdings when the sale to HP closes in the first half of next year. We can’t say that we’ve seen many situations like that in recent transactions. In most cases this year, the sale prices of public companies – particularly those that have faded in recent years, like 3Com – have been below the market prices they fetched back in 2007. And that was before any takeout premium.

But there are other parties that stand to come out ahead in the HP-3Com deal, as well. We have to imagine that the bankers at Goldman Sachs are glad (if not relieved) to have their client, 3Com, looking likely to have finally been sold. Goldman was advising the networking vendor back in 2007 on its proposed sale to Bain Capital and Huawei Technologies, which dragged on for a half-year before being scuttled due to national security concerns. There are success fees and then there are well-earned success fees.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the desk, Morgan Stanley also has reason to celebrate its work with HP. Not only is the pending purchase of 3Com the largest enterprise networking transaction since mid-2007, but the deal continues a strong recent run by Morgan Stanley. This week alone, the bank advised HP on its $3.1bn purchase of 3Com, AdMob on its $750m sale to Google and Logitech on its $405m acquisition of LifeSize Communications. Altogether, that means Morgan Stanley has had a hand in three of the four largest deals this week.