NortonLifeLock, Avast Merger Gains UK Approval

The merger of NortonLifeLock (formerly Symantec) with London-listed Avast raises no competition concerns, the UK’s CMA regulator confirms

The UK’s competition regulator has given its provisional blessing to the merger between two cyber security firms.

In August 2021, NortonLifeLock (formerly known as Symantec) announced it would merge with security rival Avast.

The ‘merger‘ would see NortonLifeLock pay between $8.1bn and $8.6bn for the entire ordinary share capital of Avast.

CMA investigation

But in March this year, the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) cited ‘competition concerns’, and the fact that both parties offer a cybersecurity products including antivirus software (i.e. endpoint security software), privacy software (i.e. VPNs) and identity protection software, meant a phase two investigation was warranted.

The CMA said at the time that as the companies were close competitors, with few other significant rivals, it was concerned that if completed the proposed deal could lead to a reduction in competition in the UK market.

Arizona-based NortonLifeLock called the CMA’s decision to investigate “surprising.”

Avast said at the time that the deal “will only benefit consumers in the UK.”

Now after its phase two investigation, the CMA confirmed that it has “provisionally cleared the anticipated acquisition by NortonLifeLock Inc. of Avast plc.”

Any responses to this provisional finding have to be submitted before 24 August. These will be considered ahead of the CMA issuing its final report on 8 September 2022.

“While the CMA’s Phase 1 decision raised concerns about the extent of competition that the merged business would face, a more detailed analysis of the deal has found that the merging businesses face significant competition,” said the CMA. “This comes from McAfee – their main rival – plus a range of other suppliers that currently have a smaller market position in the UK.”

“The CMA also found that security applications provided by Microsoft, which holds a unique position in the market as the owner of the Windows operating system, are increasingly important alternatives for consumers,” said the CMA.

“On this basis, the CMA considers that the merging businesses will continue to face sufficient competition after the deal completes and has provisionally concluded that the merger does not raise competition concerns,” said the UK regulator.

Regulatory approvals

The deal has been expected to be completed in April, but it had been awaiting regulatory nods from Spain (which it gained earlier in the year) and the United Kingdom.

With the UK’s CMA decision the deal can go ahead and close – which has sent Avast shares to an all-time high.

Indeed, Reuters reported that shares in Avast rose as much as 43 percent to 683.2 pence and US-listed NortonLifeLock’s shares were up 3 percent before the bell.

NortonLifeLock said on Wednesday it expects to close the deal by early next month.

Back story

There is quite an involved back story to both NortonLifeLock and Avast.

Symantec as a reminder, decided back in October 2014 to split into two independent publicly traded companies by the end of 2015.

Symantec was focused on security, whereas Veritas Technologies (which Symantec had acquired in 2005 for $13.5bn,) focused on storage and information management.

Then in January 2016 Symantec sold Veritas to private equity firm The Carlyle Group for $7.4bn.

The next twist in the life of Symantec came in August 2019 when Broadcom acquired the Enterprise Security software division of Symantec for $10.7 billion, after it failed to purchase the entire company.

Broadcom opted not to hold onto that part of Symantec for long, and in January 2020 IT services giant Accenture acquired Symantec’s Cyber Security Services business from Broadcom, for an undisclosed amount.

Soon after that the company adopted the NortonLifeLock name and relocated its headquarters to Tempe, Arizona from Mountain View, California.

Avast on the other hand had purchased its rival AVG back in 2016 for $1.3bn, and in 2015 it had created Jumpshot to analyse consumers’ online habits by measuring their search, click and buy patterns across thousands of categories from over 150 websites.

In January 2020, Avast announced plans to terminate its provision of data to its subsidiary Jumpshot, and to commence a wind down of the unit, after allegations that the Avast and AVG browser extensions had spied on the web surfing habits of users.