With market meltdown, which tech firms become predator or prey?

Smart companies will hunt for good merger and acquisition opportunities, with stocks at multiyear lows. Here are the ones to watch.

While most eyes are still on stopping the bleed on Wall Street, smart high-tech companies will likely take a page out of Warren Buffet's playbook by looking for merger and acquisition opportunities, with stocks at multiyear lows.

The Nasdaq Composite Index, where most tech stocks trade, dropped 13% this week. Nasdaq is down 26% in the past 30 days -- and off 43% from a year ago.

That makes the downturn worse than Nasdaq's 36% fall during the crash of 1987, but not as bad as the 78% decline during the dot-com crash of 2000, Barron's blogger Eric Savitz notes.

Individual tech stocks, some of which trade on Nasdaq and others on the New York Stock Exchange, took a beating. Sun, Yahoo and Nvidia this week fell 27%, 20% and 18%, respectively.

Despite the credit crunch, that could open up buying opportunities for cash-rich companies, said Oracle Corp. CEO Larry Ellison at his company's annual stockholders' meeting today, reported The Wall Street Journal.

It also makes struggling firms that have hoarded cash more attractive, no-risk targets. For instance, Sun's market cap is just $3.61 billion, despite holding cash and short-term investments worth $2.7 billion.

Here's a run-down of the potential prey and predators in this new buyer's market.

Note: All stock prices and market cap figures are as of close of trading on Friday, Oct. 10. Financial figures come from Yahoo Finance, Morningstar.com and SeekingAlpha.com.


Sun Microsystems Inc.

Symbol: JAVA

Stock price: $4.80

Off 52-week high: 81%

P/E ratio: 9.8

Market capitalization: $3.61B

Cash and short-term investments: $2.7B

Cash/market cap: 75% (higher better for acquirer)

Though Sun has been profitable for the past four quarters, it remains a shadow of its glorious self during the dot-com era. Despite paying $1 billion to buy open-source database vendor MySQL AB Sun still has $2.7 billion in cash, making it, from that standpoint alone, a no-brainer for the right buyer.

On the other hand, CEO Jonathan Schwartz has indicated his desire to turn the company around rather than sell. And with its cash in hand, it too could be a buyer. As colleague Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols notes, Sun has a checkered history, such as with its failed $2 billion buy of Cobalt Networks Inc.

Research In Motion Ltd.

Symbol: RIMM

Stock price: $55.28

Off 52-week high: 63%

P/E ratio: 18

Market cap: $31.3B

Cash and short-term investments: $1.38B

Cash/market cap: 4%

One analyst, as reported by Reuters, believes that Microsoft Corp. has a "standing offer" to buy the BlackBerry handset maker for $50 a share. Canaccord Adams analyst Peter Misek said the deal would require RIM's stock to fall to $40 per share before such a Microsoft bid would seem attractive.

While sales of Microsoft Windows Mobile phones are increasing, sales of BlackBerry phones are absolutely strong. But Gartner Inc. analyst Philip Redman still doesn't think this is a good move.

"I don't see Microsoft moving more into the low-margin mobile hardware business right now," he said in an e-mail. RIM declined to comment.

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