Amazon has made some blockbuster acquisitions over the years — including the Zappos online retailer, Kiva Systems robotics company, Twitch game streaming startup and others. But newly released numbers show that Amazon spent considerably less on acquisitions last year.
The tech giant spent $103 million on deals in 2016, according to its annual 10K filing, made public Friday morning. For many companies, that would be a huge number, but it’s down sharply from Amazon’s annual acquisition totals of $862 million in 2014 and $690 million in 2015. It’s the company’s lowest deal volume in at least five years. By comparison, Microsoft spent more than $26 billion last year on a single deal, its acquisition of LinkedIn.
Despite its traditionally thin profit margins, Amazon certainly has enough cash to make acquisitions. The company reported about $20 billion in cash and equivalents at the end 2016, up from about $16 billion a year earlier.
The company’s corporate development team is also well-positioned to make deals, having brought on corporate development specialists including Christine Feng, formerly of Microsoft, and Atul Deo, formerly of Yahoo, among others.
“They definitely staffed for M&A,” said Nat Burgess, a mergers-and-acquisitions specialist and angel investor who is managing partner at the Seattle-based TechStrat strategic advisory firm. “However they are also coming off a string of small acquisitions, which required a lot of resources to integrate and manage. We have seen Microsoft and Google go through similar cycles, where they close two or three dozen deals, and then have to step back and digest.”
Burgess noted, “Also, when there is a lot of effort on a very large deal, smaller initiatives fall by the wayside. Amazon’s rumored $1 billion Souq deal, which they ultimately abandoned, may have taken their attention away from other potential deals.”
Another possible factor: “Amazon is a conservative buyer,” Burgess said. “They think long term and they don’t get seduced by high-flying valuations. For example, there was good business logic for them to acquire Twilio and add CPaaS (Communications Platform as a Service) as a feature set to AWS — but the IPO went out at over 16x revenue and if we see an acquisition by Amazon, it will most likely happen when that valuation falls back to earth. Even with the down rounds and the fallen unicorns, valuations are high — often out of range for a conservative acquirer like Amazon.”
Looking at the tech industry broadly, Burgess said his firm’s data mirrors findings from CB Insights, showing the number of acquisitions by Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Apple and Salesforce dropping about 35 percent in 2016 from peak 2014 levels.
“The number of deals initiated in Q1 (2016) was way down, which resulted in fewer closings, especially in Q4,” he said. “The election cycle has now disrupted deal initiation in Q4, which will result in potentially fewer deals in Q2 and Q3 of 2017. That means that Amazon’s slowdown in M&A is in line with many of their peers.”
Amazon declined to comment beyond the numbers reported in filing.
Acquisitions announced by Amazon in 2016 included NICE, based in Asti, Italy, which makes software and services for high performance and technical computing.” NICE became part of Amazon Web Services. In addition, Amazon’s Twitch acquired Curse, a gaming media and communications company.”
Burgess pointed to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ 2015 annual letter, outlining four characteristics of a “dreamy business.” As Bezos explained those characteristics: “Customers love it, it can grow to very large size, it has strong returns on capital, and it’s durable in time — with the potential to endure for decades.” Within Amazon, Bezos cited AWS, Prime and Marketplace as being three examples of businesses that meet those criteria.
“Most of the M&A activity has gone to filling gaps in these offerings — which is very different from pursuing M&A as the platform for an entire line of business,” Burgess said. “Amazon is unlikely to overpay for a high-flying, fully baked platform as the basis for the next dreamy business. They are more likely to fill gaps through smaller deals, which makes M&A less central to their strategy than it is to a company that expands to entirely new markets through acquisitions.”