5 Tech Acquisitions – Why they Really Went Down

M&A Word CloudThere are so many mergers happening today you need an app just to keep up with them. What interests me the most about these mergers is whether they are due to typical consolidation, arbitrage, a company having too much cash, or whether they are truly strategic. Let’s take a look at some recent activity and see if we can figure out what is going on. I personally think all of the following mergers were in the pretty strategic category. Thinking about why these deals really went down gives you a good clue of where many of these companies think the market is going so you can prepare accordingly.

AT&T buys DirectTV – If you guessed AT&T did this just so they could bash the cable companies like Rob Lowe you would not be correct. This is all about being able to deliver mobile video content. Home users are just an added benefit here.

Verizon buys AOL – If you guessed Verizon is doing this to obtain the remaining 2m+ dial-up users – congrats on knowing this many people still used AOL dial-up service but that would not be the correct answer. This is all about content driving wireless media and OTT (over the top) video. Besides the mobility play here, are their aforementioned acquisitions just strategies to get around net neutrality? Only time will tell, but it’s clear that the war to own and control your content is on!

Intel buys Altera – If you guessed Intel did this to move up in the phone book you would be wrong. This is all about Moore’s Law possibly coming to an end. Even if it is technically possibly to extend Moore’s Law it may not be financially viable to do so. In steps Altera with a loaded portfolio of intellectual property and expertise in FPGAs. This is all about Intel wanting to strengthen their technology portfolio and finding a way to increase power outside of Moore’s Law. By the way one of my favorite startups is working in this space check out – www.bitfusion.io

IBM buys Blue Box Cloud – If you guessed Big Blue likes the similarities of the name Blue Box there could be something Freudian going on there. However, IBM purchasing this company was actually about the fact that the private cloud is a critical piece of the ongoing retooling of IT infrastructure. The majority of the big players are opting for Hybrid Cloud strategies and IBM wants to play there.

Microsoft buys Revolution Analytics – If you guessed Microsoft was trying to improve their stodgy image by being attached to anything called Revolutionary that is not a bad guess. Actually, Revolution Analytics is working around the rapidly growing R language which is used by data scientists and many students working on statistical and predictive analysis. Microsoft wanted this piece to beef up their data analytics portfolio. A Big Data war is surely coming down the road and Microsoft appears to be adding to their cache of weapons.

2014 Themes and Forecast

Last year’s “2013 Themes and Forecast” were on the money. It almost scares me to pick any M&A or rebound targets this year with the market having run up to a high point, and with the Fed claiming that tightening is coming. ‘Puts me in the nervous camp, but let’s go ahead and get started on some predictions for 2014.

Nuance – Is clearly a leader in voice recognition. You would think with the explosion of Siri and other voice-related systems this stock would be on fire. Unfortunately, the company has made a number of blunders and is in the midst of changing their business to a recurring subscription model which will further impact earnings. With a number activists pressuring the company to get their act together, and Icahn buying more shares at depressed prices, I like the risk/reward that the company gets it together or gets taken out.

Rackspace – Is a leader in cloud computing. However the company has been bashed due to reports of Amazon price cutting, execution errors, missing features, slower growth than many expected and their big bet on the OpenStack ecosystem. Rackspace also has one of the poorest partner programs in the industry which sends droves of opportunities to a number of their competitors. So what’s to like? Long-term, OpenStack has some prospects and the stock got a boost from the recent RedHat announcement of it being a big growth driver. With the stock down well over 50% from its high earlier this year, the valuation is much more appealing and there is pressure mounting on management to get it right. I see this company becoming part of a bigger organization in the long run.

Fortinet – Stays on this year’s list as I still think the installed base and valuation is appealing. There’s still too much overlap in this space which makes it ripe for consolidation.

Multi-Fineline Electronix The company has an X in its name so you know I like it already. MFLX is another one of these turnaround stocks as it trades below book and has been hammered due to bad news. With much of this linked to Apple and Blackberry, the company has worked hard to reposition itself for a rebound or possible acquisition. One kicker with Apple poised to launch new products is that they could potentially benefit from any new announcements.

Game Stop – Is one stock to sell. Of all stocks in the market today, I’m not sure any scare me as much as Game Stop, though it has rebounded like crazy from the XBOX news that they would stop allowing games to be resold. Long-term, games will be distributed digitally. Software is where the margin is, so I just don’t see how Game Stop will be able to reinvent itself. It seems they will suffer much the way Blockbuster did, yet the stock is near all-time highs. I hope they prove me wrong as I’ve enjoyed perusing their stores for many years.

Blackberry – I still believe these guys may get taken out or that the company will be split into a couple pieces. There are some great assets in the company but they need to move quickly.

In general I expect more consolidation in the cloud space. I am also worried about social media stock valuations as they are once again beginning to concern me. Twitter, Yelp, Facebook, LinkedIn and others are beginning to look quite expensive as we begin the new year.

Now on to the non-stock specific outlook.

Leather Wallet Goes Away, Almost – After years of battling technologies, it appears Bluetooth has begun to chip away at the payments space. If this happens, we could reach a point where we need to carry little more than a phone. There are a number of winners and losers if this comes to pass.

Microsoft Mobility – As smart devices are linked to the cloud, they are one of the easiest devices to replace. This actually works to Microsoft’s benefit as they eat into Samsung and Apple sales ever so slightly. The big question over the next couple years is whether Microsoft’s enterprise offerings are strong enough to drive sales of their mobility products that offer full integration. This will largely depend on the focus of Microsoft’s new CEO.

Amazon – Finally faces backlash as a number of companies finally wake up to the realization of the great threat Amazon poses to their ongoing survival. The list of companies at risk of extinction or severe retrenchment due to Amazon’s competitive positioning is so large that Wall Street is putting up with Bezos’ spending and results because the endgame is so huge. This is a fact that Rackspace and the OpenStack movement must capitalize on before it’s too late.

IoT – Becomes more seamless. Connecting all of the wearables and appliances in the world may be cool, but if they require separate apps, charging, maintenance, logins, portals—and the list goes on—they will be more cumbersome than they’re worth. Single collection and coordination of this information becomes critical for many of these technologies to achieve mass adoption. Manufacturers must get this right or risk burnout.

Breaches on Mobile Devices – Become more common, forcing companies into modifying BYOD requirements and enforcing MDM.

Outsourcers and Integrators Disappear – Most of this will be driven by two factors. Companies that haven’t invested enough to compete on their own will be acquired for their customer bases or will go out of business. Companies that are growing, offer unique value adds, and are versed in new technologies and business models will be acquired by companies attempting to catch up or solidify their positions.

Encryption – Finally goes mainstream. Let me sum it up in two words: Snowden and China.

Google Glass – Was finally released to a lukewarm reception. I saw someone with a pair on the other day and I can’t see someone wearing these on a daily basis. There just isn’t a killer app today for the general population as there are too many flaws. Perhaps down the road this will change. Anyone remember the Newton? Sometimes you’re just a little too ahead of your time. I can see vertical usage with the device for mechanics, travelers and other specialized fields.

Smarter Software and Machines Everywhere – IBM now claims they can identify your personality by reading as few as 200 of your tweets. Technologies to analyze every bit of data created are exploding, and we are just seeing the tip of the iceberg.

3D Printing – Creates an entire new economy. Over time, the technology will decimate old business models while generating new ones. People are just figuring out how to use these tools, so ethical implications and the potential for infringement will be high. If you thought theft of online music and movies was a problem, wait ‘til you see how criminals leverage 3D printing.

Apple – I’ve been wrong on Apple the past couple years so what do I know. I do think Apple still has some tricks up its sleeve. This has to be the year they come with a wearable and/or a TV (or should I say home entertainment system?). Expectations will be incredibly high due to the delayed shipment of these products. Apple has no margin for error—they will have to be measurably better than what is on the market today or they’ll have to define a new category. My guess is that they get at least one of these right.

Disclosure – I am currently long Rackspace and Nuance.

REVIEW OF 2013 THEMES & FORECAST

For a number of years now, I’ve tried to make some educated, annual guesstimates on what will happen in the tech world. At the end of the year, I look back to see how I fared with my predictions. This has made for good conversation with a number of people I’ve encountered, so I look forward to your feedback this year, too.

With 2013 nearly a wrap, it’s time to revisit last years’ predictions and surprises. Let’s start with a review of stocks that were mentioned as M&A targets, plus Facebook, which I forecasted to rebound.

2013 M&A Picks with Performance Data
Closing Price Last Trade or Price Percentage of
Acquired 1/8/2013 12/24/2013 Change
Adtran ADTN No 20.72 26.38 27.32%
Brocade BRCD No 5.36 8.68 61.94%
Dolby Labs DLB No 29.67 38.57 30.00%
Facebook FB No 29.06 57.96 99.45%
Fortinet FTNT No 19.09 18.9 -1.00%
Groupon GRPN No 5.2 11.84 127.69%
NetApp NTAP No 32.5 40.38 24.25%
Palo Alto PANW No 47.63 56.85 19.36%
RIM BBRY No 11.91 7.73 -35.10%
Travel Zoo TZOO No 19.68 21.82 10.87%
Yahoo YHOO No 19.66 40.85 107.78%
Average Gain 59.07%

Highlights of 2013 – On the Money

  • Though none of this portfolio of particular stocks were actually acquired in 2013, they hummed along, crushing the market averages with a greater than 59% annualized return for this chosen portfolio of stocks.
  • Facebook mounted a huge comeback and gained back the faith of many of those whom it had disappointed in 2012.
  • Marissa Mayer is on a mission and did not disappoint investors as she made huge strides at Yahoo in 2013. Can she keep it up?
  • Smartphone cameras improved greatly and were key features in many new models.
  • The Blackberry phone was not a game changer and BBRY quickly popped back up as an M&A target.
  • Cloud War is in full progress as Amazon continues to cut prices and Wall Street seems to buy the strategy damaging many competitors in the process.
  • Laws—or lack thereof—slowing cloud adoption were commonplace. Imagine the even more impressive growth the cloud would have if businesses weren’t scared of compliance, case law and spying, for example.
  • Microsoft released their new XBOX and made some positive steps on the mobile front.
  • Crowdsourcing is now seen in tons of applications and has definitely hit the mainstream.

Lowlights of 2013 – Early Though Still Possible

  • Blackberry still didn’t get a deal done. I really thought they would seal a deal in 2013 in order to escape the drama that has so publicly haunted the company, and so they can focus on product development (even if it means killing their device business).
  • Apple has blown my mind by not releasing anything worth highlighting except the iPad Air and an offering of a free OS upgrade. I really thought Apple would do something noteworthy on the mobile device or television front. It seems Samsung read Job’s comments about a smart TV and took the lead on making televisions easier to control. Tim Cook keeps teasing us that there are exciting items in the funnel and that 2014 will be a big year. Let’s see if he is right.
  • No M&A – Not a single company in the list was taken over. The value of several of these companies was evidenced by their shares rebounding greatly, but I still believe many of them cannot continue to stand alone much longer. At this point, it may take another downturn or a technological advance to get the valuations compelling enough for a deal to happen.

What could happen in 2014? Check out my upcoming blog “2014 Themes and Forecast” and let me know where we agree or disagree.

2013 Tech Themes and Forecast

Here is a look at this years Themes and Forecast. To see how last year turned out you can read the 2012 Themes and Forecast or check the results.

  1. M&A for 2013 – I expect quite a few mergers of necessity. This doesn’t mean they will take place at the most advantageous price for purchasers or shareholders.
    1. FTNT – Let’s start with a former pick, Fortinet. This stock has gone nowhere in a couple of years and needs a partner. If the stock trends lower there could be takers.
    2. DLB – Dolby Labs has some investors concerned due to patents expiring and Disney’s ownership of THX. That said, Dolby has a wildcard that isn’t talked about much—the patents to NFC. If you believe NFC is finally going to gear up in 2013 or 2014, then Dolby could be a great buy for any number of companies. With the stock nearing its five-year low, it is definitely one to keep your eye on.
    3. RIMM – I know there is hype on the new operating system, but the odds of this truly being a game changer are extremely slim. The RIM faithful, hoping this might finally be the device that saves the company, will be out in force so look for the stock to bounce. That said, I still believe the company will be taken out later this year when the hype dies down.
    4. PANW – Palo Alto Networks is a leader in the security space having pioneered Next Generation Firewalls. Though the business is growing quickly, it has seen its results lag behind expectations, putting the stock under pressure. The valuation is still on the high side. For someone like Cisco that needs to do deals in 2013, a better deal may be had in the near future than before the company went public.
    5. GRPN – We know about the problems, but they still have a large active user base. I liked it better before the run-up, but I think someone will take them out (though it may need to go lower first).
    6. TZOO – With all of the consolidation in the travel space and the stock under pressure, Travel Zoo could find itself taken by a larger player in the industry.
    7. YHOO – Marissa Mayer has gotten the attitude turned around and brought some swagger back. Can you sense it? Perhaps they don’t need to be acquired at this point, but wouldn’t it be funny to see Microsoft come back now that the company is turning. Don’t forget they still own a good-sized stake in Alibaba.
    8. Other possible companies that could be acquired in 2013 include Brocade, Adtran and NetApp.
  2. Apple Has to Do Something New, Right? – While I could talk about why an iTV type of product still seems likely, I am going to switch my focus to personal M2M. Just walk into an Apple store and what do you see? All sorts of devices that communicate with your PC/Smartphone/Tablet via Bluetooth or the Internet. What do these devices do? Some of the early models analyze how well you sleep, give you a high level display of alerts on your wrist, track how many steps you take, how much exercise you are getting, etc. Even Nike has gotten into the fray. In December, the FDA approved a heart rate monitor for the iPhone. In 2013, Apple will jump into this space with a wrist based device to gather and share data. The new Apple Nano should have been this product but we will have to wait until 2013.
  3. Facebook Comeback – Facebook has their hooks into everything and in 2013 their monetization of those inroads will become more evident as the stock works back to the IPO price with a few detours along the way.
  4. Smartphone Cameras – Smartphone cameras are now a given but the quality is still lacking. Sure, it is acceptable for posting to Instagram but in most cases just not quite good enough to replace dedicated portable cameras. This year we see a number of major improvements that will widen the usefulness.
  5. Cloud War – There are just far too many services in the cloud so expect mergers, failures and new product launches. Apple, Google, Amazon and Microsoft all have strengths and weaknesses in the cloud today. Look for this war to heat up in 2013 as we haven’t seen anything yet. There are a number of platforms and products ripe for the picking. Pinterest or Yelp anyone?
  6. Crowdsourcing Goes Mainstream – This trend was identified in 2011 http://www.liquidnetworx.com/2011/01/ and has grown greatly. With the public and mainstream media finally getting wise, we will see it everywhere in 2013.
  7. Microsoft – The company finally makes some headway with their Windows Phone 8 and launches a new Xbox. By the way, the prediction that Lync would be a huge success two years ago has continued to hold true. UC strategists are stating that Cisco now views Lync as their top threat even above Avaya. Lync will make even further inroads in 2013, hurting Cisco and Avaya in the process.
  8. Laws Slow Cloud Adoption for Large Companies – There are still many questions. How would an internet kill switch possibly affect enterprise customers? Even outside of a black swan event such as this, there are still too many gray areas that risk-averse companies just can’t get around. For big companies, there is still little case law and precedents to reference. Look for consumers and small businesses to continue marching into the cloud eyes wide shut.
  9. Platform as a Service (PaaS) to Explode – These offerings have been limited but as businesses get more involved this segment should start getting more action. Note: Oracle recently took a stake in Engine Yard to get a foot in this space.
  10. Flexible Displays – New materials will allow new form factors for a variety of displays. Samsung is already rumored to be preparing a smartphone that will use this technology.

What do you see happening in 2013?

Disclosure – I am currently long Facebook.

2012 Themes and Forecast

The past few years I have stuck my neck out on the line and come up with Themes and Predictions for the upcoming year. 2011 was no different as I not only hit on different technology trends I also tried to predict which companies would and would not be taken over this past year. I had a lot of fun doing this and it is almost scary how well things worked out for these selections. You can go back and read my 2011 Themes and Forecast if you like but for now take a look at the stocks I removed from the M&A possibilities list and notice that every single stock not only was not acquired but all of them except Fortinet was down on the year with the average loss being much worse than the market at -17.3%. This was a really good basket of stocks to have avoided, they were overpriced and this prediction was on the money.

Closing Price Closing Price Percentage of
Company Symbol 1/4/2011 12/31/2011 Changes
Adtran ADTN 36.28 25 -31.09%
Fortinent FTNT 17.49 22 25.79%
Extreme EXTR 3.21 2.8 -12.77%
Juniper JNPR 37.16 22 -40.80%
F5 FFIV 132.07 98 -25.80%
Riverbed RVBD 37.28 22 -40.99%
-20.94%

Of the 8 companies I mentioned that were likely to be acquired 5 had either been acquired, merged or signed agreements to be acquired before the end of 2011. One company split itself in to two pieces and I believe the other two are still in play to be acquired. If you would have purchased this basket of stocks you would have scored a 21.3% gain easily beating the market in general by a wide margin. If you could have somehow purchased shares of Skype or MySpace on the secondary market or simply avoided Sprint which was the real stinker of the group you could have done much better. Take a look at how the M&A list performed below:

Closing Price Last Trade or Price Percentage of
Acquired 1/4/2011 12/31/2011 Change
XO XO Yes 0.69 1.4 102.90%
Global Crossing GLBC Yes 13.01 22.38 72.02%
Sprint S no 4.45 2.25 -49.44%
Blue Coat Systems BCSI Yes 30.24 26 -14.02%
Tekelec TKLC no 11.8 11 -6.78%
NTELOS * Company Split in to two pieces for modest gain
Skype Yes Privately Held – Investors made large gain
My Space Yes Company after floudering moved into passionate hands
20.94%

So to recap the highlights of last year’s forecasts M&A was definitely hot in 2011, the economy muddled along with uncertainty being a dominant theme, Apple did obtain the largest cap in the world shortly before the passing of Steve Jobs, smart phones and tablets continued to invade corporations at a rapid pace and Microsoft got it right with Lync being a breakout product for them.

So what about 2012? Here we go beginning with M&A.

1) M&A – I think M&A will cool down some after the blistering pace of 2011. Most likely we will see smaller deals done as tuck-ins to round out the portfolios of larger entities. The market is definitely ripe for IT service provider consolidation, security related entities, wireless players and for some more strategic cloud acquisitions where I expect the carriers to be active.

  • IDCC – If you haven’t heard of InterDigital before don’t feel bad as they are not a household name, however, many of the brands you know and love have to utilize their patents. With so many companies being taken off the board in 2011 including the acquisition of Motorola by Google the InterDigital wireless portfolio looks might impressive and the stock is trading just a little above its lows for the year.
  • NOK – See a pattern beginning to emerge here? Here is another undervalued wireless play. This is also a major partner of Microsoft trying to compete with the market leaders Apple and Google. This stock is trading close to or slightly below book value. I think this stock could head lower first since Lumia has not done well but keep an eye on them.
  • RIMM – I will not stoop to insulting die hard Blackberry users as I still have one or two friends that love them. The problem for RIM is that one or two die hard customers here or there is not going to help them recover quickly enough. But there is some good news. Even though Apple and Google have been declared winners of the smartphone wars this will not stop Microsoft and others from continuing to try. The market is just too big for them to walk away from. Just look at HP’s ill-advised purchase of Palm not so long ago. Sooner or later Microsoft, HP, Oracle, IBM, Amazon, Dell or someone else will decide that the market is just too big not to have a player in the game and with the market cap getting smaller by the day and no debt there is a good possibility that someone finally makes a play for the company this year.
  • Here are a few more names that have good potential to be taken over in 2012: InterNAP, Netflix, Sprint, Riverbed, Zix and Tekelec.

2) Dot Com Implosion 2.0? – Though having real products, many of the Web 2.0 companies we know, love and hate have seen stratospheric growth and valuations. While these are real companies unlike what we saw 10 years ago we now have some very big expectations to fill. There are a number of high profile companies readying to come public and one has to wonder if the valuations that are being thrown around are realistic. Just looking at the performance of recent IPOs in this space has to make one cautious at this point. Perhaps the Facebook IPO will tell the story.

3) Voice Recognition goes Mainstream – I know you have already heard more than enough about Siri but the bottom line is that everyone has been playing with this technology for years. Microsoft has made huge investment along with a number of other companies and yet none of them has had the success that Apple has in such a short time. This consumer driven technology will now find its way through every business.

4) Windows 8 – Given that enterprises are still upgrading to Windows 7 the biggest impact of Windows 8 may be on either side of the desktop.

  • Since it will enable PCs and Tablets to turn on instantly and potentially run all day, finally the Mac Air will have some legitimate competition. I have also heard developer chatter about a number of Windows 8 powered tablets that have the power of a PC inside enabling a much wider range of applications than current tablets. Look for Windows 8 to drive Ultrabook and sophisticated tablet sales.
  • The Server side of the house will also benefit as Microsoft is boasting a greatly upgraded hypervisor. While Hyper V3 will probably not match everything vmWare can do it should pressure pricing and provide end-users with more options.

5) iTV – When was the last time you were really excited about a television? I think there are legs to the iTV story in 2012. Just look at Jobs own words on this the television experience as penned by Walter Isaacson in his biography of Steve Jobs. Here’s what Jobs said: “I’d like to create an integrated television set that is completely easy to use. It would be seamlessly synched with all of your devices and with iCloud. It will have the simplest user interface you could imagine. I finally cracked it.” I am willing to believe he cracked it and that the first product ships before year-end.

6) M2M – While Machine 2 Machine (M2M) potential has been discussed for some time we are finally seeing a number of products begin to enter the market and fill a niche. Even more interesting is that these offerings are beginning to be integrated with other multi-function devices meaning that this technology is about ready to go mainstream. Look for a wide variety of products to deliver additional value to businesses across the marketplace but beginning with verticals.

7) Smart Wallet – Mobile enabled payment solutions definitely have interest. With both Android and iOS devices expected to come with Near Field Communications (NFC) chips built-in we could this technology gain momentum in the US very shortly.

8) HTML 5 – With Flash biting the dust there will be a mad rush to HTML 5. This will make many websites much more friendly to end-users. The prediction is that the HTML 5 will cut down on the need to design customer downloadable apps. This could make it easier for enterprises to deploy solutions but I don’t see the app store going away anytime soon. There is too much profit motive and the benefit of control for it to disappear.

9) Education – Will be greatly impacted by the tablet explosion – look no further than our local librarians giving lessons on how to utilize your tablet with the public library system. Even more amazing than the technology itself is the incredible amount of talent that can be pooled and captured on a single platform to make learning easier. If you haven’t watched a Khan Academy lesson with your children or for your own benefit you just don’t know what you are missing. http://www.khanacademy.org/ – They have topics on anything you could imagine including math, science, history and art with more lessons being added all of the time.

10) Security – 2011 got us talking about custom malware attacks that seemed almost like something out of a spy thriller. Expect even more custom attempts in 2012. PII also will gain increased visibility as states, companies and consumers all become more concerned.

What do you see happening in 2012?

Being Green Part III: Interesting Thoughts on Paper versus Cloud

This is my third installment of “Being Green.” In it, I reference two fairly recent pieces of research to show how conflicting these reports can be. One illustrates the benefits of reducing paper and moving to digital services, while the other hits on the impact of rising greenhouse gas emissions due to increased data center usage.

Helping to Reduce Paper

First the good, if 20% of us switched to electronic services, it would save more than: 151 million pounds of paper, avoiding the creation of nearly 1.5 million gallons of wastewater, save 1.8 million trees, eliminating the production of nearly 4 billion pounds of greenhouse gases and avoiding the use of nearly103 million of gallons of gasoline each year. Nice, right?

Yet even with these benefits, consider a counterpoint (though not an apples-to-apples comparison) below.

Cloud Update

The cloud is now getting attention from an unusual source. Greenpeace, in a recent report, links growth in the cloud to future sharp rises in greenhouse gas emissions and is calling on companies such as Facebook, Yahoo and Google to do more to help the environment. This report seems to lump data center services into the cloud. Though data centers represent just a small percentage of worldwide power consumption, Greenpeace estimates that the amount of power consumed by the world’s data centers and telecom networks will triple from 2007 to 2020.

So what do you think? Is a digital world really better for the environment or not?

These types of reports are often somewhat vague and leave readers pumped up one way or the other… until they read yet another piece of research with yet another perspective. The point is, nothing is ever quite as simple as it seems. And herein lies an example of unintended consequences—reports and statistics such as these don’t fully show how all variables are factored and what the offsets are on either side. Continued misinformation and confusion result.

My advice is to understand multiple perspectives, but tune out the noise and continue to focus on solutions that offer multifaceted benefits along with good ROI.