The tech industry's mergers-and-acquistion boom has begun. So far in May, tech companies worldwide have announced a total of $16.1 billion in buyout deals. Now, the CEOs of two of the industry's largest, most acquisitive companies have detailed their growth strategies -- and helped me zero in on two potential targets for their next takeovers.
Oracle: Consolidating the bet on Sun
In an interview with Reuters, Oracle (Nasdaq: ORCL) CEO Larry Ellison made it clear that his company's sticking to its highly acquisitive ways. Buying Sun Microsystems gave Oracle a presence in the hardware market. Now, Ellison seeks deals that will build on that approach, adding semiconductor, storage and data technologies to his shopping list.
Last Thursday, Oracle announced that it was acquiring private company Secerno, which provides firewalls that protect databases -- Oracle's and others.
IBM: Software is the new priority
While Oracle fortifies its hardware efforts, IBM (NYSE: IBM) CEO Samuel Palmisano announced that his company is now focused on building its software business. He wants IBM to get half of all its pre-tax profits from software by 2015.
Palmisano seems particularly interested in data analytics software, which allows companies and governments to make sense of the mountains of data they generate. As with Oracle, acquisitions will be crucial to this new focus.
"In five years we will spend more on acquisitions than the previous 10 years," said Palmisano. IBM expects to spend $20 billion on deals between 2011 and 2015. The company didn't waste much time getting started. Yesterday, IBM announced that it will purchase Sterling Commerce from AT&T for $1.4 billion.
In light of these developments, I've found two companies that I believe are high-probability acquisition candidates, either by Oracle, IBM or another tech major.
Informatica (Nasdaq: INFA)
Informatica's software helps corporate clients with data integration -- the ability to access and use data stored on different platforms across the company. Takeover rumors have followed the company for several years, usually with Oracle as the likely suitor. However, the timing and strategic rationale for acquiring Informatica looks more favorable now. Oracle has had time to reorganize Sun, and it's now marketing 'appliances' that bundle hardware, software, and databases, a strategy that plays to Informatica's capabilities.
As the largest independent software firm in its market, Informatica has the scale that Oracle requires. But at a relatively modest $2.3 billion market cap, Oracle could easily pay cash to snap up the company.
Teradata (NYSE: TDC)
ATM manufacturer NCR spun off Teradata in October 2007. The company focuses on data warehousing and analytics, helping customers turn mounds of raw data into useful information they can act upon. Teradata is well-respected for the sophistication of its applications, with a roster of blue-chip clients; for example, the company helped Wal-Mart discover that strawberry Pop-Tarts sold particularly well in hurricane-prone regions.
While Teradata may be less attractive to Oracle than Informatica, I think it's a perfect fit with IBM's new orientation. Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ) might also pay up for Teradata; HP CEO Mark Hurd spent three years heading it up when it was still a unit of NCR. As with Informatica, any one of these three suitors could pay for Teradata in cash, given its $5.2 billion market cap.
In a volatile economy, megacap tech companies' massive piles of cash give them greater security, and greater freedom to act. If anything, the market's recent slump could make the companies they want to buy even cheaper. I believe that the tech sector's kicked off an important M&A cycle, driven by companies' relentless need to fuel their growth and put their cash hoards to good use. I also suspect that companies specializing in application and systems software will most often find themselves on larger rivals' menus.
Given their respected positions in their industries, and their just-right sizes for hungry buyers, I'd rank Teradata and Informatica among the most likely targets. If neither one receives a takeover bid within the next 12 months, I'll be very surprised.
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