September 2013
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Day September 3, 2013

Who's buying whom?

When a prosperous company buys a struggling company you have to wonder what they’re really buying.

Here’s how to think about it. A company is defined as the sum of three values: resources, processes and priorities (RPP). Everything of value can be classified into these three categories.

When one company buys another it’s the equivalent of one set of RPPs trying to engulf or swallow another set of RPPs. The simplest (naïve) interpretation is that an acquisition is the purchase of Resources in terms of customers, sales, profits, etc. It might be of assets like employees, intellectual properties, brand etc. I say this is naïve because Resources are the easiest to value because they can be measured and valuing only what can be measured while ignoring what can’t be measured is deeply mis-pricing.

So most people look for the “R” value or the value of Resources in an acquisition. It’s may be naïve but it is what markets typically value because it’s what they can price. But what happens when the “R” is flimsy or fleeting?

The answer has to be that it’s  the processes or even priorities which are valued by the acquirer.

Unforgiven, Continued

In June of 2011 I asked “Does the phone market forgive failure?” Not much time has passed since but the answer still seems to be no. The trigger I was using for this point of no return when the vendor began making losses.

The list at the time consisted of 13 phone vendors who either merged, were liquidated or acquired after this trigger point was reached. There were no examples of vendors who recovered. Since then two more vendors reached the threshold (Nokia and RIM) and a third will do so this quarter (HTC). One vendor (LG) may be recovering but Nokia has just been acquired and RIM has put itself up for sale. Some Japanese vendors like Panasonic have also called it quits since then. So the score so far is about 18 triggers, 15 exits and three pending.

Some of this data is summarized in the following graph: