A deflating bubble

Contact: Brenon Daly

If, as some observers suspect, the valuations for tech startups are overinflated, then at least a bit of air is expected to leak out of the bubble. According to our recent survey of corporate development executives, two-thirds of the respondents indicated that they expect valuations for private companies to decline through the rest of the year. The 65% who predicted a slide in the exit prices for startups is more than five times higher than the 12% who projected that valuations would tick higher. (The question about startup valuations was part of a larger survey about M&A expectations for the rest of 2011. See our full report on the survey.)

Interestingly, the mid-2011 outlook is almost exactly the inverse of what corporate development executives told us at the beginning of the year. In our previous survey, 71% forecasted higher M&A valuations for startups this year, compared to just 9% who saw a decline. In fact, the only time the sentiment from our mid-2011 survey even loosely lines up is back in the 2009 survey, which was conducted at the depth of the Great Recession. At that time, nearly nine out of 10 respondents projected that private company M&A valuations in that year would decline, compared to just 5% who predicted an uptick.

Projected change in private company valuations

Period Increase Stay the same Decrease
Mid-2011 for remainder of year 12% 23% 65%
December 2010 for 2011 71% 20% 9%
December 2009 for 2010 58% 36% 6%
December 2008 for 2009 4% 9% 87%
December 2007 for 2008 39% 28% 33%

Source: The 451 Group Tech Corporate Development Outlook Survey

A less-than-bullish outlook for corporate shopping

Contact: Brenon Daly

The results of our annual survey of corporate development executives are in and the outlook for technology M&A in the coming year is less than bullish. Consider this change in sentiment: the number of respondents who thought the overall M&A market would improve in the coming year dropped from half (52%) in the 2009 survey to just one-third (35%) this time. Meanwhile, the percentage that projected the market will be worse tripled from just 7% last year to 23% this year. The fact that roughly one out of four corporate buyers expects the market to deteriorate is a rather bearish sign, we would suggest.

Moreover, that bearishness around the overall market carries over to projections about their own company’s buying plans for 2011. Just half (52%) said they expected to be busier in 2011 than this year. That’s down from two-thirds (68%) who said the same thing last year. (In 2009, 15% of respondents said the acquisition pace at their firms would ‘increase significantly,’ twice the level that said the same thing in this year’s survey.) See our full report on the outlook for M&A activity and valuations in the coming year from corporate development executives.

Corporate dealmakers ready to deal

Contact: Brenon Daly

Companies expect to be busier with M&A during the rest of the year than they’ve been so far in 2009, even though they’re likely to pay steeper prices for their deals. That’s the takeaway from our recent survey of corporate development executives at more than 60 technology firms. The survey, which closed Monday evening, updated our full report from last December and will figure into our midyear M&A webinar on Thursday.

If not bullish, the projections in our midyear survey are much less bearish than they were in our previous survey at the end of last year. Six out of 10 respondents said their companies will pick up their rate of shopping, while just one out of 10 projected their M&A pace will tail off for the rest of 2009. That’s a notable swing back to optimism from the December survey, when just four out of 10 said they expected to be busier, and two out of 10 said they would slow their acquisition pace.

The view from corporate dealmakers is significant because, collectively, they set the tone in the tech M&A market. So far this year, strategic buyers have accounted for $50bn of the $53bn in announced deal values, with financial acquirers tallying just $3bn. In terms of how they assess the buying environment, however, the view is pretty evenly split. Roughly one-third of the respondents said valuations of private technology companies would fall further in the second half of 2009, with another one-third saying they would hold steady, and another one-third predicting they would rebound before the end of the year.

Where did you go, LBO?

Contact: Brenon Daly

We finished counting all of the nickels and dimes from last year’s M&A spending and, as expected, we’re looking at a rather paltry total. Overall, acquirers across the globe announced tech deals worth $302bn in 2008, down 30% from the total in 2007. (We explore the reasons for the decline – and what it will mean for dealmaking this year – more fully in our 2009 M&A Outlook.)

Perhaps the most interesting point about M&A last year, which goes a long way toward explaining the one-third decline, is the fact that we saw a sharp contrast in the dealmaking activity of strategic and financial acquirers. For the most part, corporate shoppers continued to buy, with the number of dollars spent dropping ‘just’ 12% from the previous year.

On the other hand, PE shops slashed their dealmaking by 77%, spending roughly the same amount on tech LBOs last year that they did in 2004. And given the state of the current credit market – along with some of the painfully ill-advised bets they made on portfolio companies when the markets were smiling – we can’t imagine that situation will unwind enough to spur much activity in tech LBOs in 2009. Indeed, nearly nine out of 10 corporate development officers we surveyed in mid-December said they expected even less ‘competition’ in deals from PE firms this year.

Annual deal flow

Year Strategic acquisitions Financial acquisitions Total
2008 $275bn $27bn $302bn
2007 $314bn $118bn $432bn
2006 $359bn $98bn $457bn

Source: The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase

M&A goes MIA in Q2

With the second quarter wrapped up, we’ve been busy tallying the deal flow from the period. As you might guess, M&A levels for the past three months mirror the dour economic climate. The quick numbers: Overall tech M&A fell 40% in the second quarter, year-over-year, dragged down by private equity players that have been knocked out of the market by the credit market turmoil. The total shopping bill of $148bn is a sharp decline from the $241bn in the same period last year, putting it only slightly above the $122bn recorded in the second quarter of 2006.

A number of trends shaped M&A in the quarter, including the continued use of bear hugs to pressure reluctant sellers, the frozen IPO market and the rise of consolidation deals. Of course, the single largest crimp on deal-making in the second quarter was the utter disappearance of tech buyouts. The value of tech LBOs in the second quarter fell more than 90% compared to the same period last year, when credit was flowing freely. In the just-completed quarter, we recorded some $7bn worth of tech buyouts, down from $85bn in the year-ago period. Looked at another way, LBOs accounted for just 5% of all tech M&A spending in the second quarter, after representing a full one-third of total spending in the same period last year.

Deal flow breakdown

Quarter PE deal value Corp. deal value Total deal value
Q2 2006 $13bn $109bn $122bn
Q2 2007 $85bn $156bn $241bn
Q2 2008 $7bn $141bn $148bn

Source: The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase