What the state of investment in 2023 means for investors eyeing 2024 opportunities

Atomico's annual 'State of European Tech' report showcases a cautious investment year, but suggests 2024 could see a surge in scaleup IPOs.
What the state of investment in 2023 means for investors eyeing 2024 opportunities

This year, Venture Capital firm Atomico released the ninth edition of its annual 'State of European Tech' report.

It offers many interesting insights into the state of employment in the European tech scene based on a detailed survey and in-depth interviews.

It included a deep dive into the state of the public markets, IPOs and M&A to understand liquidity prospects for companies and their investors.
Here are some of the key points detailed:
Exit activity has been quiet since the market's peak in Q4 2021. However, 2023 saw the $2.6 billion listing of German cloud infrastructure provider IONOS Group and the ill-fated $1 billion IPO of UK fintech CAB Payments, followed by the gigantic $55 billion IPO this year to test a 're-opening' of the IPO window.
However, this exists within a broader valuation reset that included liquidity challenges. 
The ongoing liquidity crunch for LPs creates heightened pressure on VC GPs to deliver distribution. According to VC survey respondents, almost half have spent more time over the past 12 months proactively exploring secondary sales, continuation funds, and other means. 


M&As on the decline

Source: Atomico.

 Over the past five years, 68 European technology companies from the region have been acquired in tractions valuing the companies at over a billion dollars, of which 30 (44 percent) were VC-backed.

This compares to 168 billion-dollar acquisitions of US tech companies over the same period.

Source: Atomico

Across all transaction value brackets, 2023 registered a significant decline in the number of M&A transactions. 

2023 recorded the lowest number of $B+ M&A transactions for many years, both in Europe and in the US. In 2023, billion-dollar acquisitions made up just 3 percent of M&A activity in the year to date. 

The largest transaction this year is the proposed majority acquisition of Worldpay, by private equity firm GTCR for an implied enterprise value of $18.5 billion.

While Europe has seen five $B+ acquisitions of tech companies this year to date, though only a single VC-backed company is within that cohort.

Private equity is powering up 

Private equity has generally been a strong theme in European tech in 2023, with financial sponsors responsible for three of the top 5 largest M&A transactions in Europe this year. Three (SimCorp, Software AG and Kahoot!) involved public-to-private transactions.

Private European buyers represent 63 percent of M&As. 

Source: Atomico

VC-backed buyers on the retreat

While there have been some firesales, this year has seen many companies place a pause on M&A to focus on stability. This means that VC-backed company buying activity has fallen, mirroring the trends of the overall M&A landscape.

Activity in M&A has fallen in 2023 across every category when segmented by the size of the transaction in terms of enterprise value.

The mid-sized category involving transactions valued at between has seen a particular slowdown year-on-year. So far in 2023, there have been just 11 transactions in the mid-sized category between $100 million and $1 billion, implying an expected full-year count of around 15. This would represent under half the number of similarly-sized transactions (31) recorded in 2022.

The most active buyers are local tech players

Image: Atomico.

Excluding Meta, the top 10 buyers are all local players. Furthermore, nearly all of the top buyers are tech-first players themselves, excluding the financial services provider Sberbank. For strategic buyers, M&A is the quickest way to scale their customer base or add new features without developing them in-house.

In 2023 to date, six companies with a total value of $5B in Europe and eight companies totalling $32B of value in the US have been taken private by PE firms.

The most sizable of these are the take-privates of Qualtrics International ($11B, led by Silver Lake) in the US and Software AG ($3B, Silver Lake) in Europe.

It's fair to assume that PE will continue to be an important driver of M&A activity in the European tech ecosystem, especially when the interest rate environment eases debt financing considerations.

IPOs are few and far between

Very few tech companies have chosen to list, with the IPO window effectively shutting since early 2022. The overall count of public tech companies has fallen in both Europe (down 3 percent year-on-year) and the US (-7 percent). 

Once listed, most European companies tend to stay listed in Europe. Looking at companies that were first listed ten years ago, only 10 percent have ceased trading since their IPOs. The share of delisted IPOs is much higher in the United States, where the equivalent share of delisted 2014 IPOs stands at 35 percent.

The volume of $B+ IPOs remains at long-term lows Europe saw three billion-dollar market cap tech IPOs in 2023, capped off by ARM's massive $55B IPO in Q3 2023.

Increasing daily market caps

All but one of the top 10 most valuable companies has increased their average daily market cap in 2023 vs. their average daily market cap in 2022. Atomico asserts that the peaks of 2021 are even in sight for some, including ASML, Europe's most valuable technology company.

The Netherlands continues to lead Europe in terms of total public tech market cap. It is also home to four of the top 10 largest European tech companies by public market cap. ASML on its own is a true multi-hundred-billion-dollar European tech giant, accounting for 52 percent of the Netherlands' total market cap.

Meanwhile, the UK leapfrogged France, largely thanks to the ARM mega-listing, which contributed 34 percent of the country's total market cap in 2023.

Similarly, the German public tech market is heavily reliant on SAP's performance, contributing a whopping 53 percent to Germany's total tech market cap. The stock price recovery of SAP is also reflected in Germany adding $33 million to its market cap.

No to the SPAC 

This year has not seen a single completed SPAC of a European tech company. This is a sharp decline from the frenzied activity of prior years, with 11 SPACs in 2022 and 14 in the peak year of 2021. 

Atomico predicts that a SPAC return in greater numbers should not be expected any time soon.

Despite the challenges of 2023, there's cause for optimism. The pipeline of mature European tech scaleups on an IPO trajectory has never been stronger.

There are more than 120 credible candidates in the cohort of potential near- and medium-term IPOs when screening for various factors, including scale, maturity and leadership team strength.

Atomico's State of European Tech 2023 report is now available and goes on to outline a number of additional topics. It can be accessed at stateofeuropeantech.com.

You might also want to check out our additional coverage of the report at:

The State of European Tech 2023: Consistent, long-term growth

European startup funding down more than half at $45B in 2023

2023 is a tough year to work in tech but an influx of foreign talent and successful post-unicorn startup employees offers hope

Lead image via Atomico.

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