Lucent to slow pace of acquisitions

Lucent has been gobbling up new acquisitions at an alarming rate, but the company's got a strong constitution, analysts say.

Lucent Technologies last week capped off a multibillion-dollar spending spree with a $1.7bn (£1bn) agreement to acquire Excel Switching, a maker of programmable switching equipment for telecommunications carriers.

The Excel proposal closes out an accelerated period of acquisition, even by the standards of Lucent, which has shelled out more than $30bn on strategic purchases in the past three years. The week before the Excel announcement, Lucent agreed to acquire systems integrator International Network Systems for $3.7bn and enterprise router maker Xedia for $246m.

Although it's too earlier to evaluate the potential disruption the almost constant integration of personnel and products could inflict on Lucent's day-to-day operations, analysts said the company has been careful not to bite off more than it can chew.

According to Frank Dzubeck, president of the Communications Network Architects research firm, Lucent has been able to absorb its frequent acquisitions by spreading purchases across different product divisions. "Lucent is not doing a lot of acquisitions in one segment simultaneously," Dzubeck said, adding that the purchases of Nexabit Networks, INS, Xedia and Excel all involved different divisions. "That's the key to making sanity out of an insane world."

Lucent Chief Operating Officer Dan Stanzione, describing Lucent's acquisition strategy as a business tactic, indicated that the company, while unlikely to proceed at the same blistering pace, would continue to use its chequebook to penetrate high-growth markets. "We will continue to focus on acquisitions, and it will continue to be an important tactic," he said.

The magnitude of Lucent's recent buying binge appears even more significant when compared with the purchasing history of its closest competitors. Going back to the end of June, when Lucent bought backbone router start-up Nexabit for $900m, the company has spent more than $5.6bn in less than two months. Since the beginning of 1997, Cisco Systems has acquired more than 20 companies for a combined total of about $5.3bn.

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