Wednesday, 23 January 2008

European Technology Acquisitions – 2007 Annual Review

As readers will know I was appointed as a non executive director at tech M&A specialists, Regent, early in 2007 – although I’ve had a relationship with Peter Rowell and his team that goes back many years.

Regent’s statistics are the most extensive available and, indeed, coupled with the considerable experience of Peter and his team, have the added benefit of a long historic base.

Analysis of acquisitions involving European technology companies throughout 2007 has revealed a total of 3,215 transactions, a slight decline of 2% on the 3,295 deals completed in 2006. However, despite there being fewer transactions than in 2006, the total value of these deals has actually increased by 4% to $349bn, suggesting that the technology sector has yet to feel the effects of the global economic slowdown.

2007 Review Highlights

No bust without a boom – There have been suggestions that some parts of the industry are seeing symptoms similar to those witnessed prior to the crash. This is not the case. Whilst deal volume certainly remains high, transaction valuations remain quite sensible.

Decline in super deals – 2007 saw four key deals with values in excess of $10 billion, down from seven in 2006. However, any perceived shortfall was made up by a large increase in the number of large deals ($1bn to £10bn), which at 54 deals was up 32% on 2006

Increase in quoted targets – Of the 3,215 transactions in 2007 an increasing number were quoted companies, with sales of those listed on the LSE up 35% and those listed on European Primary markets up 16%

Keeping things private – Despite serious concerns that sub-prime problems and the resulting tightening of credit would mean that private equity investors would be less active, that appears not to be the case so far for deals other than the very large (greater than $1b). Financial investors accounted for over 14% of all acquisitions in 2007

2007 Sector Highlights

Content & Media – Once again, the content and media sector accounted for the majority of activity, with 957 transactions representing 30% of all deals (up 2% on 2006)

IT Services – The second largest sector, accounting for 26% of all deals. Within the sector, the most active segments were Professional Services, Consulting and Systems Integration

Software – The software sector, which is the focus of consolidation, held its activity level after the 26% growth in acquisition activity during 2006, making up 13% of all deals. Application Software dominates this market, with about two thirds of all deals

Telecoms – The telecoms sector accounted for 11% of all deals, with fixed line services dominating this market with just over a third of all deals.

Rowell added, “The great land grab within the media and content space continues, and explains why this sector again leads the way. This is partly fuelled by consolidation, but mostly it is about positioning for new digital media services. Central to all of this is advertising, which is seen by many as the fuel of the new age.”

2007 Country Highlights

UK – The UK retained its position as the most active buying region, with 24% of all deals. The UK was closely followed by Scandinavia, which saw an increase of 11% on 2006 levels. North America was third, with 12% (down 7%)

Western Europe – The biggest growth in buy-side activity came from Germany (up 23%) and France (up 15%). This continues a trend of increased activity for both countries over the last few years as their economies have strengthened

India – Indian companies saw a big decline in activity, concluding just 15 acquisitions in the year, well down from the 26 in 2006

Rowell says “Country activity largely reflects economic trends so it is no surprise that the USA and the UK have experienced the slowdown before other countries. We have seen on many occasions over the past 20 years that Germany and France run counter cyclical to the UK and North America. Most recently, we witnessed similar trends over the whole bubble period and the recovery. There is no doubt we can expect solid buy-side activity from French and German companies in 2008.”

I think what surprised me most was the decline in M&A activity from the Indians. I must admit that, so far in my discussions, I have witnessed many "expressions of interest" but little "consummation". Maybe this will change? But, in the short term, I see a continuation/uptick in “Western” companies buying in India.

2008 and beyond
Whilst the full impact of the global economic slowdown is not likely to be felt until 2009, there is every indication that 2008 will be a more challenging year for the sector, with the industry now having come past the peak of the plateau.

Interestingly, Peter Rowell concluded, “Acquisitions remain a fundamental part of this fast moving industry. Activity in 2008 will clearly be driven largely by the economy and we’d therefore expect to see a gradual slowing of deal flow over the next 12 months. However, because it is moving from such a high level it is clear that there is still plenty of time for those wishing to sell their businesses to do so with the expectation of strong interest and competitive valuations.”

For someone often labelled a gloom merchant, I’m rather more upbeat about the prospects for M&A in 2008.

  • the IPO market seems to be dead for the time being, so other forms of ‘realising shareholder value’ will be sought.

  • Private equity still has loads of dosh and loves to use it when prices are ‘better value’ – as they undoubtedly will be in 2008.

  • Public to Private deals (as in the recent Northgate deal with KKR) will be a very fertile route for many mid-range/mid-value quoted SITS companies; particularly in the UK

  • A number of larger companies have been looking at strategic acquisitions in the SITS space for several years but have been put off by the valuations. Contrary to other observers, I do forecast that some of the very largest IT services companies might well get snapped up in 2008/9. But the acquirers will be from outside the conventional SITS sector.

I’ll post the pdf of the 2007 Annual Review in the next few days. But if you want a full copy sooner or, indeed, want to discuss any of this, please drop Peter Rowell an email on

Also I will remind readers of - The Intellect Annual Regent Conference on 5th Feb 08. Chaired, as usual, by Jeremy Paxman at The Millennium Gloucester Hotel, London SW7.

Speakers include :

- Doug Richard, founder and chairman of Library House who appeared in the BBC series Dragons' Den;
- Mike Harris, CEO of Garlik and founder of Egg plc;
- Anil Hansjee, head of corporate development EMEA, Google;
- Nigel Clifford, CEO, Symbian
- Anthony Miller. My old and much respected colleague now at Arete
- Peter Rowell, executive chairman, Regent Associates;
- and me... on a panel at the end with Jon Molton from Alchemy, Crispin O,Brien from KPMG and Anil Hansjee from Google.

To register, contact Tina Gallagher; T: 020 7331 2023;

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