Data analysis acquisition "worst deal ever"?

A little over a year ago I mentioned that data analysis companies were getting gobbled up by larger technology companies. In particular, HP bought Autonomy, a British data analysis company, for about $11 billion. (By the way, can anyone tell me if it’s still called Hewlett-Packard, or is it just “HP”, like “AT&T”?) From an article a year ago

Autonomy, with headquarters in Cambridge, England, helps companies and governments store, process, search and analyze large electronic data sets. Its specialty lies in its sophisticated algorithms, which can make sense of unstructured information.

At the time, the thinking was HP had overpaid (especially given HP’s recent high price for 3Par) but the deal went through anyway. Now, HP has discovered accounting problems at Autonomy and is writing down $8.8 billion.


James Stewart of the New York Times claims this is worse than the failed AOL-Time Warner merger (although the absolute numbers involved here are smaller). With 3 CEOs in 2 years, it seems HP just can’t get anything right these days. But what intrigues me most is the question of what companies like Autonomy are worth and the possibility that HP made a huge mistake in the valuation of this company. Of course, if there was fraud at Autonomy (as it seems to be alleged), then all bets are off. But if not, then perhaps this is the first bubble popping in the realm of data analysis companies more generally?