An uptick in large deals in the IT services market during the first six months of 2017 has made it the second busiest half-year M&A period since 2011.
That is according to findings from M&A advisory firm Hampleton, which claims that deals reached $21.9bn (£17bn) in value during the first six months of 2017, almost double the total valuations logged in H2 of 2016.
The valuation spike was due to a number of high-profile deals that were announced during the first six months of the year. The priciest global deal came in the shape of private equity house Blackstone's $4.3bn (£3.3bn) acquisition of UK professional services firm Aon. This was followed just days after by a second UK deal, its buyout of cloud computing firm Cloudreach.
Other major channel M&A moves also made it into the top 10 highest-valued IT services acquisitions of H1 2017. Synnex's acquisition of global distributor Westcon Group for $600m, and GP Investment's $638m buyout of Rimini Street were cited as other examples of companies that fetched a high price.
Hampleton particularly noted that private equity-related deals have seen a surge across Europe during the first six months of the year, as investments in Britain have already reached almost double the deal volume logged in the whole of 2016. The advisory firm claims that there were 48 private equity deals in the IT services space in the first half of 2017, compared with half that amount during the previous six months.
This is against a backdrop of a worldwide IT services market that is expected to grow 2.3 per cent in 2017 according to Gartner, with spending forecast to reach $3.5tn for the year.
Principal partner at Hampleton, Miro Parizek, said Europe has especially seen growing M&A activity in the e-commerce and digital marketing space.
"Twenty per cent of the deals that were in Europe were web and email marketing, all related to e-commerce and digital marketing, then another five per cent were web developers and web design. It is almost a quarter of all deals. Companies such as Accenture and the big agencies like WPP were the top buyers and top acquirers," he said.
Furthermore, according to the research, 72 per cent of M&A deals in Europe were secured by European buyers, while 24 per cent were from North American bidders.
Parizek said this was the first time European bidders have accounted for more than 70 per cent of European deals.
"Interestingly enough, it is up but it has been pretty high for a long time. In a way, it is consistent today with the past. It used to be in the high 60s, it was 66, then 69. This is the first time it has peaked 70 per cent," he said.
"Why is it local? It is always to do with the nature of the IT industry. When you are looking at acquiring, a lot of those companies are 50-person companies or even 20 people, which is relatively small on a global scale.
"It tends to be pretty regional. You get DACH champions and UK champions and Scandinavian champions, then a Dutch one that becomes a Benelux champion, but there is a lack of that European-wide player and some are starting to get into that market. But really, it is either global or local champions."
In particular, the IT outsourcing services space has seen something of a gold rush among investors, with deal values in the first half of 2017 almost trebling when compared with the final six months of 2016 to $14.7bn.
Taking a more general view on technology-related M&A, Parizek said that emerging technologies such as AI, augmented reality and next-generation cybersecurity have spurred investors to ramp up M&A activity.
"With AI and AR and cybersecurity threats, there is so much going on and there is a constant need for constant investment. AI has had a limited impact on IT services to date, but a huge amount of money is going into start-ups which right now are too small to add on an IT service provider arm," he said.
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