At this time a year ago, the global economy was imploding. We were in uncharted territory. Banks were on the brink. Lending dried up. Private equity was sitting tight. The wheels of the financial markets had stopped moving.
Flash forward to today. While there’s still lots of debate about what the future holds and there’s good reason to believe that we’re not out of the woods yet, in some industries executives are feeling more confident. In the tech and media worlds, there are signs of life in the M&A markets.
This week, Disney agreed to buy comic book superpower Marvel Entertainment Inc. for $4bn. eBay was able to sell a majority stake in Skype to a consortium of private equity firms for close to $2bn. Google CEO publicly stated “the worst is behind us” and revealed that Google is “seriously looking at acquisitions again“.
This is all good news. After all, a healthy M&A market is generally part of a healthy economy. And it makes sense that technology would be one of the first places we see increased M&A activity. There are plenty of tech companies (like Google) with solid balance sheets that have kept their powder dry. It’s a buyer’s market and there are plenty of good opportunities worth looking at.
In the world of startups, in particular, a boost in M&A activity will be welcomed warmly. It reassures investors that successful portfolio companies may reasonably find liquidity events. And it gives executives and employees hope that that their equity might someday be worth something. While IPOs were commonplace during the .com boom of the late 90s, the boom of the past several years was driven more by M&A prospects, especially in the consumer internet, which never really regained favor with the public markets. So for many companies, liquidity equals M&A.
The question now: was this week really a sign of a resurgent M&A market? Time will tell. Executives who are feeling more confident about the state of the global economy may see this moment as a great opportunity to take a little bit of risk to make some moves. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re not early or that others will follow in their footsteps.
One thing is for sure: it’s also extremely likely that as M&A activity picks up, we’ll see acquisitions that are more strategic and conservative in nature. Bebo-like acquisitions, for instance, tend to take place at market peaks, not at market bottoms. So how important increased M&A is to you will probably depend on the type of company you run or work at. I personally wouldn’t expect to see blockbuster acquisitions in which buyers pay significant premiums for unproven startups with minimal revenue.
Photo credit: Andyrob via Flickr.