Tech Giants Revive Acquisition Market

Purchases by Cisco, Dell, and Amazon brighten a flat first quarter for North American dealmaking.
Vincent RyanMarch 20, 2012

Technology firms unleashed some of their capital in the past week and a half, injecting some life into an otherwise sluggish merger-and-acquisition climate. Big — but not earth-shattering — deals by Cisco Systems, Dell, and Amazon reversed what had been a dismal beginning to March.

Acquisitions are inevitable in high-tech, as markets change rapidly and companies have to move aggressively to develop (or buy) new products to maintain market share and grow revenues. Cisco’s deal, for example, was made to accelerate and complement the delivery of Videoscape, the company’s Internet TV service. The target was NDS Group, a United Kingdom–based provider of video software and content security systems.

Dell agreed to buy SonicWALL, a leader in enterprise firewall systems, for $1 billion, from Thoma Bravo and Teachers Private Capital. The transaction fits into Dell’s strategy of shifting its revenue mix to enterprise solutions and services.

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And on Monday, Amazon announced the purchase of Kiva Systems, a maker of robotics used in processing e-commerce orders, for $775 million. Kiva claims that its solution can pick, pack, and ship four times as many orders as existing warehouse systems.

Those deals aside, the week ending March 16 was about average for 2012, according to the database of deals provided to CFO by mergermarket. There were 50 deals announced in North America, which had a total disclosed value of $19.7 billion. That bested what was a dismal week the seven days prior (31 deals worth $9.8 billion), but in comparison to 2011, the first quarter of 2012 has been a flop. At this point last year, 1,240 deals with a disclosed value of $329 billion had taken place. Total transaction value has dropped 50% from 2011 and the number of deals has fallen 28%.

The slowdown is eroding the U.S. share of global M&A. The United States has lost 16 percentage points of global market share in 2012, according to Thomson Reuters, while countries such as Switzerland, Germany, China, and Brazil have increased their shares.

Rob Coble, a business leader in transaction and restructuring at KPMG, said in a note on Monday that once the U.S. economy finds more solid footing, the M&A market will take off. Consumer companies in particular need to invest “inorganically” as well as organically to increase their total addressable market, he pointed out.

Other notable transactions last week included the following:

  • Insight Venture Partners announced the buyout of Quest Software, a provider of network and database management software. The transaction is worth about $2 billion, with Insight putting up $210 million in equity.
  • GlaxoSmithKline continued its divestment strategy, as Belgium’s Omega Pharma SA agreed to buy the noncore, over-the-counter brands of the U.K. GlaxoSmithKline group. The deal includes a manufacturing site in Germany.
  • Caterpillar announced the purchase of Eqstra Holdings, a South African mining equipment and services business.
  • TBC, a supplier of car replacement tires and a subsidiary of Sumitomo Corp. of America, made a tender offer to acquire the outstanding shares of Midas, a car repair and maintenance provider, for $269 million.
  • Apollo Global Management launched a $703 million offer for Great Wolf Resorts, an operator of indoor water parks.
  • In financial services, UnionBanCal signed an agreement to buy Pacific Capital Bancorp, the parent of Santa Barbara Bank & Trust. SBB&T has branches in the Central Coast area of California and will supply UnionBanCal, a subsidiary of Japan’s Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group, with low-cost retail deposits. Pacific Capital was a near failure during the financial crisis until the Treasury Department bought $180.6 million in preferred stock and warrants under the Troubled Asset Relief Program.