With market meltdown, which tech firms become predator or prey?

Smart companies will hunt for good merger and acquisition opportunities with stocks at multi-year lows. Here are the ones to watch.

While most eyes are still on stopping the bleed on Wall Street, smart tech companies will likely take a page out of Warren Buffet's playbook by looking for merger and acquisition opportunities with stocks at multi-year lows.

The Nasdaq Composite Index, where most tech stocks trade, dropped 13 percent last week. Nasdaq is down 26 percent in the last 30 days -- and off 43 percent from a year ago.

That makes the downturn worse than Nasdaq's 36 percent fall during the crash of 1987, but not as bad as the 78 percent decline during the dot-com crash of 2000, Barron's blogger Eric Savitz notes .

Individual tech stocks, some of which trade on Nasdaq and others on the New York Stock Exchange, took a beating. Sun Microsystems, Yahoo, and Nvidia last week fell 27 percent, 20 percent and 18 percent, respectively.

Despite the credit crunch, that could open up buying opportunities for cash-rich companies, said Oracle CEO Larry Ellison at his company's annual stockholders' meeting, reported The Wall Street Journal.

It also makes struggling firms that have hoarded cash more attractive, no-risk targets. For instance, Sun's market cap is just US$3.61 billion, despite holding cash and short-term investments worth US$2.7 billion.

Here's a run-down of the potential prey and predators in this new buyer's market.

Note: all stock prices and market cap figures are as of close of trading Friday, October 10. Financial figures come from Yahoo Finance, Morningstar.com and SeekingAlpha.com.

Prey

Sun Microsystems | Symbol: JAVA | Stock Price US$4.80 | Off 52-week high: 81 percent | P/E ratio: 9.8 | Market capitalization: US$3.61B | Cash and short-term investments: US$2.7B | Cash/market cap: 75 percent (higher better for acquirer)

Though Sun has been profitable for the last four quarters, it remains a shadow of its glorious self during the dot-com era. Despite paying US$1 billion to buy open-source database vendor MySQL AB Sun still has US$2.7 billion in cash, making it, from that standpoint alone, a no-brainer for the right buyer.

On the other hand, CEO Jonathan Schwartz has indicated his desire to turn the company around rather than sell. And with its cash-in-hand, it too could be a buyer. As colleague Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols notes, Sun has a checkered history, such as with its failed US$2 billion buy of Cobalt Networks.

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Eric Lai

Computerworld (US)
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