Does a possible
herald a trend toward overseas acquisitions of U.S. Internet operations and other tech companies?
Well, they're too late. The trend has already begun.
In fact, since the first of the year, the total dollar volume of deals in which non-U.S. firms have said they'd be acquiring U.S. tech companies has exceeded U.S. acquisitions of overseas firms by about 75%, according to figures supplied by
Thomson Financial Securities Data
Merger talks between Terra, a subsidiary of Spanish communications giant
, and Lycos follow other recently announced investments in Internet firms from companies outside the U.S. border, such as the Netherlands'
deal to acquire a majority stake in
deal for ISP and Web hoster
; and Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim Helu's purchase of a stake in online music retailer
Youssef Squali, Internet analyst at
, says he wouldn't be surprised if other European firms follow in Terra's apparent footsteps. "The Europeans, generally, have been relatively late to the Internet game," he says. "This is an attempt, on their part, to acquire the technology and the know-how from where the Internet started ... especially at a time when the valuations have come down dramatically.
"Some of these assets are viewed, believe it or not, as bargains," Squali adds, even in the face of continued weakness in some foreign currencies, particularly the euro.
It's not just the price that makes U.S. Net companies attractive elsewhere, Squali says. "A U.S. Internet company, whether on the content side or the access side, just really does provide a set of assets it would take years for these foreign companies to develop in-house," he says.
But it's the infrastructure companies that Squali thinks will be more attractive to potential buyers. Infrastructure companies "often have a recurring set of revenues you don't often have with a content provider," he says.
Rob Martin, senior Internet analyst at
Friedman Billings Ramsey
, says the interest of foreign firms in U.S. Net operations has "definitely" picked up, thanks in part to recent price declines among tech stocks. When Martin visited Europe last October, he says, institutional and strategic investors were having trouble stomaching the valuations of Internet companies. "Imagine the trouble they were having in March," he says.
"There are properties that have fallen below the radar of American investors that may represent a great beachhead in establishing a larger international strategy," he says.
Martin speculates that international firms might be interested in portals that haven't achieved first-tier status in the U.S. but could create a significant audience when combined with audiences from other countries around the world. Possible acquisition candidates include the portals
. "Any one of those could potentially get picked off by an international media company that wants to broaden its exposure," he says. (The Australian-rooted LookSmart announced earlier this month that it was in discussions regarding a "proposed business relationship" with Australian telecom giant
Squali cautions that the success of transoceanic deals, starting with a merged Lycos-Terra Networks, isn't certain. "It's a long way from being a slam dunk," he says. "We're not only talking about corporate culture differences," he says. "We're talking