Technology and biotechnology merger and acquisition activity could be on the uptick in 2014, at least according to a respondents of a biannual survey issued by technology law firm Morrison & Foerster and research firm 451 Research.

Half of respondents surveyed said they expect expect M&A will increase in the next six months; just 7 percent project a slowdown.
But don’t expect a return to the strong M&A activity seen several years ago. 415’s analysis shows that tech M&A volume globally is down 15 percent compared to a year ago. It’s down even more compared to the same period in 2011.

Brenon Daly, research director for M&A at 451 Research, says in his analysis of the survey findings that lower levels of activity could signal change in the M&A market as “more than a few buyers and their advisers are telling us they are adjusting their acquisition plans to this ‘new normal.’”

A closer look at the survey results reveals a mixed picture. Over the last six months, nearly as many survey respondents said that they have slowed activity as those who have said that they have accelerated it.

Daly notes that the picture doesn’t get much clearer with projections for future activity. In the last four surveys roughly half of respondents forecast that they would be active in the coming months in contrast to between 10 and 20 percent of respondents who expected a slowdown. Those responses contrast with the actual levels of M&A activity documented by 415’s analysis.

“Currently, tech M&A volume across the globe in 2013 is roughly 15 percent below where it was this time last year, and down even more when compared to the same period in 2011, according to the 451 M&A KnowledgeBase,” Daly said in the report. “In fact, the number of deals so far this year is tracking to its lowest level since the recession year of 2009.”

415 says the discrepancy might be because the recovery from the 2008 to 2010 recession has been “inconsistent and incomplete.” That uncertainty is reflected in responses to the question “What is the likelihood that M&A spending will recover to precession levels?” Most respondents – 35 percent – said spending will probably recover. But close behind, 31 percent put the chances at 50/50. And 27 percent responded that spending will probably not recover.

415 says growth is the main factor influencing whether investing levels recover. And Daly notes that the problem right now is that many of the big companies that would be acquirers just aren’t growing enough. As an example the firm points to IBM, which reported third quarter financial results that lagged its own forecast. Even so, IBM has continued to acquire, spending about $3 billion on deals so far this year. But 415 notes that other notable big tech firms such as Symantec, Teradata and CA Technologies have been on the M&A sidelines.

The survey garnered nearly 200 responses from technology professionals that included C-level executives, business development professionals and in-house counsel. But it’s hard to tell how representative those responses will be of North Carolina dealmaking. The majority of respondents are based in Silicon Valley. The the rest are in New York and other parts of the United States, along with Asia and Europe.