Tech M&A: Going down, down, down

April 29, 2009

Investment bank Jefferies recently released a report on technology M&A in the first quarter of 2009. As one can imagine, there are few surprises. We may as well give you the highlights here, which point to some signs of recovery compared to the end of last year, but clearly there’s still a long way to go:

  • The number of tech deals in North America fell 4 percent to 373 in the first quarter from the fourth quarter of 2008. It’s the lowest level of activity in five years, but at least the drop is a manageable 4 percent — in the December quarter, the number of deals dropped 23 percent from the third quarter of 2008.
  • The aggregate value of North American M&A transactions was $4.3 billion in the first quarter, also a 4 percent drop from the prior quarter and an 85 percent plunge from the first quarter of 2008.
  • Not a single tech IPO priced in the U.S. market during the quarter.
  • The biggest tech deal announced in the quarter was Autonomy’s purchase of Interwoven for $764 million.
  • The first quarter of 2009 has only three transactions greater than $500 million, compared to 10 such deals in the year-ago quarter.

The Jefferies survey also looks at tech M&A in Western Europe, which presents a similarly gloomy picture. Nine of the top 10 Western European deals in the first quarter were cross-border, and four of them involved U.S. buyers. The aggregate deal value fell 80 percent to $1.8 billion compared to the fourth quarter of 2008.

But it’s interesting to note that the mix of deals in the software, services and media sub-sector hasn’t changed much quarter to quarter. For example, IT services deals have hovered at about 30 percent of total transactions for the past five quarters, while digital media M&A has ranged from 32 percent to 35 percent of total deals in the same period.

Based on the grim experience of the first quarter of this year, Jefferies predicts there will be fewer than 1,500 deals this year in North America, a decline of 22 percent from 2008, which saw 1,919 deals. In terms of aggregate value, the bank expects only $17.2 billion, a 79 percent drop from last year, and nowhere near 2007, when the total deals announced were collectively worth $191 billion.

(Chart: Jefferies)

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