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Optical Component Consolidation – Part I

Just as the market abandoned hope of consolidation it strikes. The dust has settled from the merger announcement between Finisar and Optium and in plain terms it is a brilliant move. Finisar is already a leader in the industry but this puts them in an even stronger position than before. This series of posts looks at why it is happening, who benefits, who loses, and suggests what is likely to happen next.

Part 1 – Introduction

During OFC2008’s Marketwatch Panel I indicated consolidation was necessary and would happen faster than most people believed. I made the argument that all consolidation up to that point had been “Big buying Small”, not meaningful, and that only a large transaction between two major players would be a catalytic event. The slides I presented on consolidation are at the end of this article.

The merger between Finisar and Optium will be that event.

In February, Telecom and Datacom CEOs and other executives who participated in the OFC Executive Forum indicated the market was in a stalemate situation (only Joe Liu dissented). All indicated that consolidation was needed but when asked point blank if it would happen the answer was ‘no’. Here are a couple of quotes from Feb 25.

  • Alain Couder, CEO of Bookham – “Consolidation for market share has not been successful … I don’t see any urgency.”
  • Tony Musto, President of Sales and Marketing, Optium Corporation “No path to profitability exists through consolidation.”
  • Jerry Rawls, CEO of Finisar – “Consolidation, as much as it is needed, isn’t going to happen.”  (whoops)
  • Jo Major, CEO of Avanex – “Many barriers exist to consolidation.”
  • Harry Bosco, CEO of OpnextMike Chan, EVP – “Everyone is talking about consolidation but no one is doing anything about it.”
  • Joe Liu, CEO of Oplink – “Consolidation is imminent.”

Blu-Ray and Black Swans

Most readers are familiar with the (now settled) HD-DVD vs. Blu-Ray format war. You may recall that when 2008 began 2008 the consensus opinion was that a stalemate was at hand, and that the format war would continue indefinitely. This is not unlike the opinions of executives from five of the largest optical component companies, who only a few months prior claim that a change in the landscape is unlikely and difficult.

In the first week of January Warner Brothers, a studio whose content represented a 20% share of DVDs, abandoned support for HD-DVD. Within a week, the shift ended the HD format war.

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No one saw Warner’s decision coming but the market reaction was immediate and complete. The decision caught HD-DVD players flat-footed booth at the 2008 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and was so unanticipated that various press events and conferences on HD-DVD topics were either canceled or participants simply failed to show up. It’s the best recent example of a ‘Black Swan’ in the technology business.

The Fuse Is Lit

The outcome of the Finisar/Optium merger will not be immediately apparent like Warner’s decision to drop HD-DVD was. The optical component business moves much more slowly than consumer electronics. However, both have set in motion an irreversible sequence of events that have an equally non-linear outcome, a sequence of events that onlookers thought impossible only a few months before. News of the merger event is rippling through the industry and adjusting the markets perception.

This future looks something like this:

  • The Finisar/Optium entity will create an optical Hegemon, with superior scale and cost efficiency when compared with its peers.
  • Other companies in the same sector now have no choice but to consolidate in an attempt to reach a similar state- or be marginalized. At some point investor or peer pressure will crack management resistance to consolidation.
  • Macro level capacity is reduced and duplicative fixed cost spending will drop. Pricing power will improve. Profitability improves for some.

Here is an excerpt from a note I published on May 16th, immediately following the merger announcement.

This is the beginning of a bull market in this sector. This kind of thinking will fix much of what is wrong. Others will now need dance partners. Pressure will be on for consolidation. If they do not, the big player will put others under their thumb.

In the short term, while consolidation is underway, the above remains true. What will be more difficult is understanding the stage that follows, as consolidation is a messy, destructive, and wealth-destroying process. It is Schumpeter’s creative destruction at it’s finest. But participants tend to focus on the creativity of such times but overlook the destruction. One must look at the impact of both, something that will unfold in a coming series of articles.

Part 2 – What Consolidation Accomplishes

Part 3 – Quantitative and Qualitative Analysis of Finisar/Optium Merger

Part 4 – Broader Market Trends in Optical Component Consolidation

Stay tuned.

Below are excerpts of slides from the Nyquist presentation made in February at OFC

Discussion

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  1. Who is normally in the driver seat for acquisition? Sometime I donnot think CEO may be the one. And most times CEOs may not have such motivation.

    Posted by FC | June 12, 2008, 12:35 AM