Oracle has gone silent

Contact: Brenon Daly

While investors will be tuning in for Oracle’s Q3 report after the market’s close today, we can’t help noting that there hasn’t been much news from the consolidator recently. It has yet to announce a deal in 2011, an uncharacteristic dry spell for a company that averaged an acquisition every six weeks in each of the past two years. In Q1 2010, Oracle announced three transactions and even in the recession-wracked Q1 2009, the software giant announced a pair of deals – but nothing so far this year.

In fact, Oracle has been out of the market since it spent $1bn on Art Technology Group in early November, nearly five months ago. And it’s not just Oracle that’s currently on the M&A sidelines. Fellow big-name buyers such as Microsoft, Symantec, EMC and Nokia have all yet to open their accounts in 2011. Even serial shopper IBM was also on that list until earlier this week, when it announced its purchase of Tririga

Out with the old, in with the new

Contact:  Brenon Daly

Just over the past week, we’ve been struck by the fact that after in-house development efforts came up short, companies simply reached out of house for other companies that were doing the same thing – only better. In one case, it was to buy; in another case, it was just to partner.

Take Hewlett-Packard’s purchase earlier this week of Vertica Systems. (Subscribers can see our full report on the transaction, including our estimates of the undisclosed deal terms.) The purchase came just three weeks after HP said it was phasing out its Neoview platform, which never caught on in the otherwise fast-growing data-warehousing market. (We’re just guessing, but the move might have also been rooted in personal reasons, as well as financial reasons. Neoview was closely associated with HP’s former CEO Mark Hurd, who has been taking shots at his former shop ever since he joined Oracle.)

Although that acquisition doesn’t entirely line up with Nokia’s ‘strategic alliance’ with Microsoft, there are more than a few echoes. In both cases, a tech giant – armed with tens of millions of R&D dollars, not to mention dozens of engineers dedicated to the effort – was in danger of slipping into irrelevancy in an explosively growing market. The agreements represented dramatic about-faces for HP and Nokia. But that’s probably better than both trying to put a good face on what the market has said is a losing effort.

Nokia + Microsoft = Love?

Contact: Brenon Daly

Maybe it’s the fact that today is Valentine’s Day and love is in the air, but we’ve been thinking about the recent closeness of Nokia and Microsoft in a whole new way. Recall that the Finnish handset maker said on Friday that it’ll be basically breaking up with its own OS to start dating Windows Phone. ‘You’re just not doing it for me anymore,’ the hardware told the software before also asking Symbian to clean its stuff out of their previously shared house. ‘Don’t forget your toothbrush.’

By dumping its longtime partner, Nokia has cleared the way for a new relationship with Microsoft, which looks like a compatible union to our eyes. After all, both giants are on a slow fade right now, largely watching while the rest of the mobile industry passes them by. (To put that into human terms, we can’t help but envision Nokia and Microsoft as a somewhat elderly couple, more likely to watch On Golden Pond (on VHS, no less) than to head out to the theater and catch The Social Network, for instance.)

Have these companies truly been struck by Cupid’s arrow? Is the ‘strategic alliance’ just a bit of handholding before a proper marriage? Well, from our view, an acquisition – although still unlikely – is less unlikely than before. Why? For one thing, the block to this long-rumored pairing has always been that Microsoft wouldn’t want to jeopardize its relationships with other device makers by settling fully on Nokia.

But frankly, that’s less of a concern now if only because Windows Phone has been left behind, even by hardware makers that have long relied on Microsoft for software to power their computers. For instance, Dell has largely embraced Google’s rival OS, Android, for its tablets. And Hewlett-Packard went out and dropped $1bn on Palm Inc to have its own OS for devices rather than continue to run Microsoft’s mobile OS. Given that many of its former partners have already paired off, maybe Microsoft believes the time is now to tie up with Nokia, for better and for worse.

2010: not the year it could have been for tech M&A

Contact: Brenon Daly

Looking back on dealmaking in 2010, it strikes us that it wasn’t the year that it could have been. With the recession (officially) behind us and many tech companies’ stock prices and cash hoards hitting record levels, we might have thought M&A last year would rebound to pre-Credit Crisis levels. That wasn’t the case.

In 2010, we tallied some 3,200 transactions – a slight 7% increase over the number of deals in the recession-wracked years of 2008 and 2009. In the far more important measure of tech M&A spending, the $178bn in 2010 represented a substantial 21% jump from 2009 levels. But it’s just half the annual amount we saw from 2005-2008. (In fact, the spending in the second quarter of 2007 alone eclipsed the full-year total for 2010.)

Looking deeper at last year’s activity of some of the key tech corporate buyers, we begin to see a partial reason for the muted overall spending, at least compared to pre-Crisis years. Yes, stalwarts like IBM and Hewlett-Packard continued their shopping sprees in 2010. Collectively, that pair announced 23 transactions worth a total of $11.1bn. But other tech bellwethers weren’t so quick to sign deals last year.

Microsoft announced just two purchases in 2010. Symantec sat out the entire second half of 2010 – a period, we might note, that saw its largest rival, McAfee, get snapped up. Cisco Systems did fewer deals in 2010 than in 2009. Included in the list of 2009 transactions for the networking giant were a pair of $3bn acquisitions (Starent Networks and Tandberg), while the largest deal Cisco announced last year was the $99m pickup of CoreOptics.

And although Dell was in the news often for M&A last year, both on successful and unsuccessful transactions, its overall activity basically kept pace with recent years. However, the company’s landmark purchase of 2010 (the $960m acquisition of Compellent Technologies) only ranks as the third-largest deal Dell has made since it jump-started its M&A program in mid-2007.

Cadbury gets sweet deal; Yahoo sours

Contact: Brenon Daly

When Kraft Foods first launched its bid for Cadbury four months ago, we termed the offer ‘an Old Economy rendition’ of Microsoft’s reach for Yahoo in early 2008. And while it wasn’t a direct parallel, there were a number of similarities: A diversified, dividend-paying company makes an unsolicited play for a target that’s only just into a restructuring program, with a goal of bolstering a business where it’s currently an also-ran.

The parallels diverged even wider on Tuesday, as the British confectioner agreed to a raised bid from Kraft. Cadbury shareholders will pocket $19.5bn in cash and Kraft stock for their company, about 11% higher than Kraft initially offered. It represents the highest-ever price for Cadbury stock on the London Stock Exchange.

So that’s the reward to shareholders from a selling company. What about on the other side? What’s happened to the owners of Yahoo since the Internet giant spurned the advances of Microsoft (as Cadbury once dismissed the interest of Kraft)? Shares of Yahoo currently trade at just half the level that Microsoft bid for them. And it isn’t just the fact that shares got hit by the biggest economic upheaval since the Great Depression since Yahoo turned down Microsoft’s interest. In the nearly two years since that decision, the Nasdaq has basically flat-lined while Yahoo stock has dropped by one-third.

Microsoft (officially) pals up with Opalis

Contact: Brenon Daly

Two months after we first indicated that Microsoft was interested in Opalis Software, the software giant has indeed acquired the runbook automation (RBA) vendor. No terms were disclosed, but when we talked with sources in mid-October, the price being kicked around was $60m. Opalis was thought to be running at about $10m in revenue. We understand that Cowen Group banked Toronto-based Opalis.

The deal, now that it is official, comes after other fellow RBA startups were snapped up. In March 2007, Opsware (now part of Hewlett-Packard) spent $54m in cash and stock for iConclude, and four months later, BMC paid $53m for RealOps. As that wave of consolidation swept through the RBA market, Opalis positioned itself as an independent alternative to the offerings from the system management giants. That said, the vendor had been drawing closer to Microsoft. In late April, the two companies announced a joint technology agreement that saw, among other things, Opalis integrated into Microsoft’s System Center Operations Manager 2007 and System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2008 consoles.

Is mobile advertising back?

-Contact Thomas Rasmussen

In a clear sign that mobile advertising has grown up, Google spent a whopping $750m in stock on Monday to pick up San Mateo, California-based AdMob in what we hear was a contested process. This transaction goes a long way toward securing control of mobile display advertising for Google and comes just days after the launch of Android 2.0. Although we’ve been projecting dealmaking in the mobile advertising market for quite some time, we’re nonetheless floored by the rich valuation for AdMob, a three-year-old startup that’s raised just shy of $50m. We estimate that the 140-person firm pulled in about $20m in gross revenue in 2008 and was on track to double that figure this year (we surmise that this translates to roughly $20m on a net revenue basis).

The double-digit valuation for AdMob reminds us more than a little bit of the high-multiple online advertising deals that we saw in 2007. Viewed in that context, Google’s purchase of AdMob stands as the third-largest ‘new media’ advertising purchase since 2002. Of course, like many of those transactions, this was not based on revenue, but instead on technology and market extension, which is consistent with Google’s strategy of acquiring big into core adjacencies.

Looking forward, AdMob’s top-dollar exit is sure to have a number of rival mobile advertising startups excited. One competitor that’s preparing to raise an additional sizable round of funding quipped at the near-perfect timing of this transaction. This is an industry that has seen its ups and downs over the past few years. When we first wrote about AdMob back in May it was in the backdrop of fire sales and failed rounds of funding. If nothing else, this deal will dramatically change that.

Microsoft has been actively playing catch-up to Google in advertising and search, and is sure to follow it onto the mobile device. As are many other niche advertising shoppers such as Yahoo, Nokia, AdKnowledge, Adobe-Omniture and traditional media conglomerates such as Cox. AOL has already made its move, reaching for Third Screen Media two years ago. (We would note that AOL’s $105m purchase of Third Screen is a rare case of that company actually being ahead of the market.)

Startups that could benefit from this increasing focus on the sector include AdMarvel, Amobee, InMobi, and Velti’s Ad Infuse. However, we suspect that some of the major advances – and consequently the most promising targets – are likely to come from players that are just now getting started, with fresh and profitable approaches to location-based mobile advertising.

Some recent mobile advertising deals

Date announced Acquirer Target Deal value Target TTM revenue
November 9, 2009 Google AdMob $750m $20m*
September 14, 2009 Nokia Acuity Mobile Not disclosed Not disclosed
August 27, 2009 AdMob AdWhirl Not disclosed Not disclosed
May 21, 2009 Limelight Networks Kiptronic $1m $2m*
May 12, 2009 Velti Ad Infuse <$1m* $1.3m*
March 11, 2008 Qualcomm Xiam Technologies $32m Not disclosed
August 21, 2007 Yahoo Actionality Not disclosed Not disclosed
May 15, 2007 AOL Third Screen Media $105m $3m*

Source: The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase *451 Group estimate

Is IAC looking to sell

-Contact Thomas Rasmussen

It looks like acquisitive IAC/InterActiveCorp could be gearing up to undo its largest buy ever, At least Barry Diller’s opening remarks during IAC’s conference call last week seem to indicate a desire to explore the possibility. The New York City-based Internet media company has successfully expanded into a content giant by snapping up dozens of Internet properties. IAC has inked 36 deals worth more than $4.5bn since 2002. Many of those purchases have been tiny (, for instance), but IAC did make a significant pickup when it handed over $1.85bn for in March 2005.

However, we suspect that hasn’t delivered the kind of returns that IAC had hoped for, since the search engine remains far behind Yahoo, Microsoft and Google in terms of usage. Still, with roughly 4% of US search market share, would be a significant addition to any acquirer in the competitive scale-driven space, where every percentage point counts.

Though we won’t rule out a financial buyout, which would have more than a few echoes of the just-closed Skype carve-out, we think a strategic buyer for makes more sense. Two obvious suitors spring to mind: Google and Microsoft. Although Google recently made its intentions for more acquisitions known and even signaled a willingness to do large deals again, we do not think it is likely to pick up Rather than make a consolidation play, we expect Google to continue to snare startups to offer additional services to existing users, while also bolstering its recent moves into new markets such as online video and mobile communications.

On the other hand, Microsoft has displayed a willingness to spend a lot of money in its game of catch-up with Google. With an acquisition of coupled with its impending Yahoo deal, Microsoft could come very close to capturing one-third of all search traffic. While that would undoubtedly help Microsoft, a divestiture of could also benefit IAC. Granted, it would mean slicing its revenue roughly in half, but IAC would have a cleaner story to tell Wall Street. And it could use some help in that area. Investors give a paltry valuation to the cash-heavy company, valuing the business at less than one times sales on the basis of enterprise value. IAC sports a $2.6bn market capitalization, but holds $1.8bn in cash.

IAC’s historic acquisitions and divestitures, 2002 – present

Year Number of acquisitions Number of divestitures
2009 5 4
2008 7 0
2007 6 0
2006 3 0
2005 3 0
2004 4 0
2003 4 0
2002 4 0

Source: The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase

Microsoft pals up with Opalis?

Contact: Brenon Daly, William Fellows

Having already seen a trio of notable runbook automation (RBA) startups get snapped up by major tech players, we’re now hearing buzz about another pairing. Word is that Microsoft has snagged Opalis Software for about $60m, according to both financial and industry sources. Opalis, which has raised $25m in venture backing, is thought to be running at about $10m in revenue – a much higher level than its rivals at the time of their acquisitions. Current CEO Todd DeLaughter is the former head of Hewlett-Packard’s OpenView division.

The rumored deal comes more than two years after a pair of high-multiple RBA pickups put the focus on the sector, and a year since the industry’s most-recent significant transaction. In March 2007, Opsware (now part of HP) spent $54m in cash and stock for iConclude, and four months later, BMC paid $53m for RealOps. Both iConclude and RealOps had only just started to produce any revenue at the time of their respective purchases. And exactly a year ago, CA Inc reached for Optinuity, which we understand was also generating sales in the low single digits of million of dollars.

As that wave of consolidation swept through the RBA market, Opalis positioned itself as an independent alternative to the offerings from the system management giants. Of course, that would be lost if the company does indeed end up belonging to the Redmond behemoth. It wouldn’t be surprising if Microsoft does announce the deal. We understand that the company had a preliminary look or two at Optinuity before that startup sold to CA a year ago. More significantly, Microsoft and Opalis announced in late April a joint technology agreement that saw, among other things, Opalis integrated into Microsoft’s System Center Operations Manager 2007 and System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2008 consoles.

What’s next for billionaire Twitter?

-Contact Thomas Rasmussen

At a time when the social networking bubble is quickly deflating, micro-blogging startup Twitter seems to be living in an alternative universe. We are, of course, referring to the much-publicized $1bn valuation the San Francisco-based company received in a recent round of funding. The rich funding dwarfs even the kinds of valuations we saw during the height of the short-lived social networking bubble last year. And it’s pretty difficult to justify Twitter’s valuation based on its financial performance, since the money-burning startup has absolutely no revenue to speak of, nor a clear plan of how to change that. It seems the entire valuation is predicated on the impressive user growth it has experienced over the past year, as well as the charismatic founders’ wild dreams of ‘changing the way the world communicates.’ That’s pretty thin, particularly when compared to LinkedIn’s funding last year at a similar valuation. That round, which was done at a time when the social networking fad was near its peak, nonetheless had some financial results to support it. Reid Hoffman’s startup was profitable on what we understand was about $100m in revenue and a proven and lucrative business model.

The interesting development from this latest funding is that it makes a sale of Twitter less likely, we would argue. This may be fine with the founders, who have drawn in some $150m for the company and will (presumably) look to the public market to repay those investments at some point in the future. But without any revenue to speak of at this point, any offering from Twitter is a long way off. Also, an IPO by Twitter in the future hangs on successful offerings from Facebook and LinkedIn, which are far more likely to go public before Twitter. If both of those social media bellwethers enjoy strong offerings, and Twitter actually starts to make money off its fast-growing base of users, then a multibillion-dollar exit – in the form of an IPO – might not be farfetched. But we should add that there are a lot of ‘ifs’ included in that scenario.

An offering looks all the more likely for Twitter because the field of potential acquirers has gotten significantly slimmer, since not many would-be acquirers have deep-enough pockets to pay for a premium on the startups’ already premium valuation. As we know from Twitter’s own embarrassing leak of some internal documents, Microsoft, Yahoo, Google and Facebook have all shown an interest in the startup at one point or another. But we’re not sure any of those companies would really be ready to do a 10-digit deal for a firm that’s still promising – rather than posting – financial results. Moreover, we wonder if any of the four would-be buyers even need Twitter. Yahoo and Microsoft seem focused on other parts of their business. Meanwhile, Google is hard at work on Google Wave, and Facebook appears to have moved on already with its much-cheaper acquisition of Twitter competitor FriendFeed in August.

Recent high-profile social networking valuations (based on last known valuation event)

Date Company Valuation/exit value Revenue Revenue to value multiple
September 2009 Twitter $1bn $0* N/A
Summer 2009 Facebook $8bn $500m* 16x*
June 2008 LinkedIn $1bn $100m* 10x*
May 2008 Plaxo $150m* (acquisition by Comcast) $10m* 15x*
March 2008 Bebo $850m (acquisition by AOL) $20m* 42.5x*
July 2005 MySpace/Intermix $580m (acquisition by NewsCorp) $90m 6.5x
December 2005 FriendsReunited $208m (acquisition by ITV; divested to Brightsolid in $42m fire sale in August 2009) $20* 10x*

Source: The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase *451 Group estimate