Tech M&A Rises to 2000 Levels

As reported in the NYTimes DealBook, merger mania that gripped the world during the dot com bubble seems to be making a comeback. Fueled by Facebook's two big acquisitions, the dollar volume of tech deals is up 90 percent worldwide, to $65.2 billion, year over year, according to Thomson Reuters data. This is the highest it has been since the year 2000.  The ten biggest tech deals of the year all involve acquisitions of American companies, the biggest of which has been the purchase of WhatsApp for $19 billion. The WhatsApp acquisition is the fifth largest tech deal ever, according to Thomson Reuters. Technology is hot right now, and looks to be picking up steam. We've received more inquiries from technology companies this year than we typically do. Not everyone is excited about the tech boom, however. Castlight recently went public in an offering that defied traditional valuation metrics; the company's valuation soared to more than $3 billion on 2013 revenues of only $13 million. Yahoo! finance called it the worst IPO of the century. So, where does this leave the rest of the market? As with any bubble, everything is rosey until something pops. With the momentum tech has built so far this year, it wouldn't surprise us to see more large deals over the next 9 months of the year. However, if valuations continue to defy historical measurements and reality checks, watch out - the last time companies without profits were going public at incredible multiples (dot com bubble), the market correction was harsh and swift. Read the original article from NY Times DealBook here.

Despite Hurdles, Bitcoin Investing Continues: Circle Raises $17 Million in Series B Financing

As reported by Recode.net, the rush to invest in Bitcoin companies continues. Circle Internet Financial, based in Boston, has said that it has closed a $17 million round of Series B financing from a group of investors. Their investors now include Breyer Capital, Accel Partners, General Catalyst Partners, Pantera Capital, the Bitcoin Opportunity Fund, and SecondMarket CEO and founder Barry Silbert. This continues a streak of investing into the digital currency, which has included $20 million in funding to Wences Casares for a bitcoin vault and wallet Xapo and $25 million into bitcoin wallet Coinbase.  “There are not a lot of credible companies building what we are, and we saw the opportunity to bulk up to bring bitcoin to the mainstream. We mean to get beyond the bunch of amateurs and enthusiasts that have dominated the early development of digital currency and make it easy for regular people to use," said Jeremy Allaire, Circle founder, chairman and CEO. Not bad for a company that considers their product to be a stored value card. Circle continues to focus on making online tools that allows customers to engage in safe, easy transactions. This will hopefully reduce much of the risk associated with bitcoin; last month Mt. Gox was forced to file for bankruptcy after half a billion of bitcoins was allegedly stolen from them by hackers. Read the full article here.

KC Based Compass Minerals Makes $85 Million Acquisition

As reported in the Kansas City Business Journal, and as a way to boost its fertilizer business, Compass purchased Wolf Trax, Inc. of Winnepeg, MB, in an all cash deal for $85 million. Wolf Trax is a producer of micronutrients that are crucial in the coating process for dry fertilizer. The coating creates an efficient way to deliver nutrients such as boron and zinc. The purchase price would represent a 4.8x multiple on 2013 revenues. “Wolf Trax brand products are well recognized by fertilizer customers for the differentiated technology they bring to the application of micronutrients. This acquisition will position us for future growth with new products that serve a greater diversity of crops and geographies in a fast growing segment of the plant nutrition market," Compass CEO Fran Malecha said in a release. Read the entire article from the KCBJ here.

The Midwest: A New Technological Frontier

As reported in TechCrunch, the Midwest is no longer just a flyover space for high tech proprietors and investors flying between Silicon Valley and New York city. The Midwest has become a bastion for high tech startups in addition to the regions more traditional manufacturing entrepreneurship. Mark Kvamme, a co-founder of the Midwest’s largest — and most recent — venture investment firm, Drive Capital, recently said that, “In the last five years there have been 52 companies [from the Midwest] that have either gone public or been acquired for north of $1 billion." Recently, Sprint invited a group of 10 mobile-health related startups to its accelerator program based in Kansas City. Earlier in March, the Digital Sandbox KC released information stating that it had raised $7 million in follow-on funding for graduates of its accelerator program. Regardless of previous geographical prejudices, the Midwest is now a must visit for tech investors looking for the next big thing. Kansas City continues to lead by example through amazing entrepreneurship programs like Google's Fiberhood and the Kauffmann Foundation's numerous initiatives. Read the entire story from TechCrunch here.

E-commerce Competition Intensifies: Megadeal between Google and eBay on the Horizon?

As reported by the San Jose Mercury News, Carl Icahn is at it again. One of the world's most active investors, Icahn is pressuring eBay to spin off its PayPal segment in a move that is intended to unlock value for current eBay shareholders. However, one analyst from Baird Equity Research seems to have a different idea, which he revealed in an investment note released on Monday. Baird analyst Colin Sebastian recently wrote that a merger could be "a possible 'best of both worlds' opportunity" that would accomplish Icahn's goals while allowing Google to shore up a struggling division. He continued to explain that, "we believe acquiring eBay/PayPal would be one way for Google to secure quickly a strong leadership position in commerce and payments, and likewise, could represent a better strategic option than alternatives proposed for eBay," The deal would certainly create a giant in the e-commerce space, with eBay potentially adding $75 billion to Google's already mammoth $400+ billion capitalization. Read the entire article here.

Buffett Hints at More Mega Deals, Admits Failures

Warren Buffett's annual letters to Berkshire shareholders are somewhat legendary in the investing world. He leverages quaint anecdotes to simplify an amazing wealth of knowledge about fundamental investing in a way that is easy to consume for the average investor. This year, Buffett covered a variety of topics, but two key points included hinting at additional mega deals and admitting a misstep in the energy sector. As reported in DealBook and stated by Buffett in the letter, in order to keep growing at a consistent pace, Berkshire will need to consistently make large, successful investments. Last year, Berkshire did just that with Heinz and NV Energy. Buffett said in the letter that, “with the Heinz purchase... we created a partnership template that may be used by Berkshire in future acquisitions of size.” This most likely referred to a structure where Mr. Buffett partnered on the massive acquisition with 3G Capital, an investment firm led by Mr. Buffett’s good friend Jorge Paulo Lemann.  Additionally, Berkshire’s energy subsidiary, MidAmerican Energy, bought NV Energy for $5.6 billion last year and most expect acquisitions for MidAmerican to continue. A strong stock market and improving earnings combined to help Berkshire reach record profits of $19.5 billion in 2013, which represents a 32% increase on 2012.  However, all was not rosy for the Omaha Oracle, as he admitted in the letter that Berkshire had taken an $873 million loss on the $2 billion in debt that had been provided to Texas energy company Energy Future Holdings. Mr. Buffett said in the letter that he anticipated the company would go bankrupt this year unless natural gas prices rose contrary to energy market expectations.  In typical Buffett fashion, he acknowledged that he had not consulted his longtime investment partner, Charles T. Munger, before taking on the debt and said in the letter, “Next time I’ll call Charlie." Read the Annual Letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders here.

Sequoia Funds Mobile Marketing Automation App Kahuna

After hitting it big with WhatsApp, Sequoia announced $11 million in Series A funding for Kahuna, a startup that helps marketers test and automate their push notifications. Kahuna is only a few months old, launching in the Fall of 2013. Its customers now include Yahoo!, QuizUp (another Sequoia portfolio investment), 1-800 Flowers and more. Deal makers will be keeping a close eye on Sequoia after they hit it big with WhatsApp. Do they have the perfect formula for choosing start up apps?  Probably not.  Although their team is undoubtedly talented, there are too many factors that go into the success or failure of young companies such as Kahuna to make batting 1.000 a reality. However, another Sequoia holding called QuizUp has taken the world of trivia by storm, creating an addictive, simple, 1-on-1 trivia game where people from across the world can battle wits via their mobile device in selected categories that vary from math to video games from the 90s.  It is an incredibly addictive game.. so maybe Sequoia is on to something. Click here to read the original article.

CCCA Economic Dashboard: February 21st, 2014

Below is the CCCA economic dashboard as of February 21st, 2014. Click here to view a larger image.

Merge or Die: Are Mergers the New Growth Catalyst in a Sluggish Economy?

As 2014 begins to take shape, many in the M&A industry are worried about a repeat of 2013, when conditions seemed ripe for deal making but those deals failed to execute.  Other than several mega deals, 2013 was largely disappointing. For context, world wide M&A was $4.27 trillion in 2007 on more than 40,000 transactions. Only a year later, 2008, we saw that amount fall to $1.9 trillion. Reuters estimates that private equity firms ended 2013 with $1.074 trillion in dry powder. Bain Capital has postulated that there is $300 trillion in capital laying dormant around the world that could be used for M&A. Capital is also still cheap, as interest rates remain relatively low. So, with all of these things pointing towards more deals being executed, when will it begin? In a recent article from Institutional Investor, Robert Teitelman postulates that there could be a "new normal" in terms of how companies grow. In a low growth global environment, he says, acquisitions are one of the only ways to increase the size of your business. US GDP was a healthy 3.2% in Q4 2013 after being 4.1% in Q3, but other parts of the world are not showing that same growth. Most expected M&A activity to be back to pre-crisis levels by now, considering the health of the overall stock market and US economy. However, it has only rebounded to mid 2000s levels. Chris Ruggeri is a principal in Deloitte’s financial advisory unit and leading manager of the firm’s M&A practice. She summed up the lack of deals by saying, “We’ve been sort of stuck. Confidence fuels growth. And growth fuels M&A. To get growth, you need confidence. It’s not there.”  Let's hope the confidence returns and deal makers start pulling the trigger, or 2014 could be a repeat of 2013.

CCCA Economic Dashboard: February 7th, 2014

Below is the CCCA economic dashboard as of February 7th, 2014. Click here to view a larger image.

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