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Cheval Year End Letter - 2016

Happy New Year

We want to thank our clients and colleagues for a record breaking 2016.  M&A activity in cloud, hosting and related business segments was at high levels during 2016 and we were fortunate to complete 24 M&A and 35 IPv4 block transactions.  The M&A transactions included a broad mix of sizes and types of hosting businesses and we have now completed over 370 internet services and related transactions since we first got started in the space in the mid-1990s.  

As we have done for the last few years at this time, we’d like to take a moment to highlight a few of the industry trends that caught our eye during 2016:

Industry growth in dollar terms continues to accelerate - *: The Hosting and Cloud business had another solid year in 2016. While the industry’s growth rate declined to an estimated 18.8% rate in 2016 from 20.2% in 2015, the industry’s growth in total dollars accelerated from an estimated $12.1B increase in 2015 to an estimated $13.5B increase in 2016. We believe the continued increases in dollar growth to be a more significant predictor of industry health than percentage growth at this time, particularly in the current stable/declining price environment. These increases highlight the continued expansion of demand for cloud, hosting and related services. 451 Group’s projections indicate growth in dollar terms is likely to continue to accelerate over the next few years.

As in previous years, growth across the industry continues to be uneven. This year we’ve worked with hosters growing at 30+% per year and hosters that are shrinking. We expect this unevenness to continue.

(* - 451 Research, Market Monitor 2016.)

Divergence of brains & brawn: We’ve seen increasing numbers of service providers offering service on others’ infrastructure. While not uncommon in the past, we’re now seeing it on a larger scale and among providers of higher end and more specialized services. Our expectation is that as the hyper-scalers continue to reduce prices and expand service, we will see more of these infrastructure-lite providers. We believe this separation is due in part to a declining rate of return on commodity infrastructure and in part from new opportunities the hyperscalers are creating (e.g. support, onboarding, management.)

We also believe that for the smaller providers, selling brains is likely to generate a higher risk adjusted return than commodity computing infrastructure. A key problem however, is that valuation and sale of businesses that sell hours of service like a consulting firm can be more difficult. Companies following this path need to ensure they automate and productize their service.

AWS Lightsail: Amazon Web Services (“AWS”) released a new VPS hosting product in late 2016. While the Lightsail product is not revolutionary or particularly aggressively priced, it does signal AWS’s desire to go after the unmanaged VPS market more seriously. If AWS remains true to form, we can expect price cuts, better hardware and an expanded product/service portfolio down the road. Given their size advantages, they are likely to be a formidable competitor to existing SMB hosters.

Ongoing M&A Trends: Lastly, a number of the M&A trends we highlighted last year appear to be continuing. Rather than repeat ourselves, you may find our 2015 letter https://www.chevalcap.com/blog/2016/1/11/hosting-ma-update of interest.

 

Best wishes for a happy and healthy 2017!

Hillary Stiff & Frank Stiff
Cheval Capital, Inc.

Frank Stiff

Aledxandria, VA 22314