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Contractors cautious about acquisitions as uncertainty looms

Concerned about budget cuts and potential changes to federal strategy, contractors are taking a more cautious approach to acquisitions.

In the past couple years, companies large and small have been aggressively buying up businesses, often in fast-growing fields such as cybersecurity, cloud computing and health information technology.

That hasn’t come to a halt — CACI International and General Dynamics are among those making recent purchases — but contractors have been looking more closely at potential purchases as they confront a presidential election, budget uncertainty and the threat of sequestration, a roughly $1 trillion reduction that would hit early next year if Congress doesn’t change existing law.

“A lot of companies are preserving their options, preserving their capital and their cash,” said Roman Schweizer, an aerospace and defense policy analyst at Guggenheim Securities. “They’re not sure what storm they have to weather through this year.”

Still, John Hagan, head of the defense and government services unit of BB&T Capital Markets/Windsor Group, said some companies are investing in areas where they feel certain of growth.

Arlington-based CACI International last week completed its purchase of Reston-based Delta Solutions, which specializes in federal financial management services. Delta posted revenue of $44.8 million in fiscal 2011.

Despite the threat of budget cuts, CACI expects the financial management field to be solid as federal agencies seek to modernize their older systems, said Gilbert B. Guarino, executive vice president in CACI’s transformation solutions business group.

Even if the total market were to shrink, he added, “the market for us will grow because we have not attacked all of our addressable market.”

Falls Church-based General Dynamics has had an active year of acquisitions, making its most recent buy in the 575-employee ship repair and coatings division of Earl Industries.

The defense contracting giant did not disclose the terms of the deal.

For companies seeking to make purchases, Hagan said, “the bar is a little bit higher to get across the ‘deploy the capital’ threshold.”

Some companies may more aggressively seek to reposition and make acquisitions once the election is complete and a resolution to sequestration in place, Schweizer said.

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