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The downward trend of the global M&A market continues

Quarterly Deal Performance Monitor – Q4 2019 and M&A Predictions for 2020

Mergers and Acquisitions
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By Jana Mercereau and Duncan Smithson | January 21, 2020

The latest Quarterly Deal Performance Monitor (QDPM) reveals that Europe is the only region worldwide to have recorded positive M&A performance in 2019.

The global M&A market, with performance in steady decline since its peak in 2015, is forecast to continue to struggle to add value in 2020, based on long-term data compiled by Willis Towers Watson and Cass Business School. Acquirers worldwide underperformed the Global Index by -5.0pp (percentage points) over the past year for deals valued over $100 million, based on share-price performance, and have now on average failed to add value from deals for three consecutive years.

Research findings revealed that over a one year rolling period acquirers have underperformed the Index by 5.4pp (percentage points).

M&A Quarterly Analysis — Global Performance 2008-2019
Figure 1. M&A Quarterly Analysis — Global Performance

NB: The share price returns have been adjusted to Index returns over the corresponding period. The MSCI World Index is used as default, unless stated otherwise.

Global dealmaking is also at its slowest pace in six years, with 774 transactions completed over $100 million worldwide in 2019, significantly down compared to 2018 (904) and the lowest annual volume recorded since 2013 (720). Forty-two per cent of these deals were unable to add shareholder value in 2019.

Last year may have ended with a flurry of deals, yet the global picture for mergers and acquisitions in 2019 was patchy. As regulatory, trade and economic uncertainties persist, the market is likely to continue at a slow pace in 2020, with companies in wait-and-see mode, particularly in North America where many transactions are on hold due to trade tensions, a slowing US economy and because presidential election years historically bring market volatility.

As regulatory, trade and economic uncertainties persist, the market is likely to continue at a slow pace in 2020.

The global M&A market research shows deal volumes are significantly down compared to the last quarter of 2018 due to the fall in deals in all regions. Mega deals closed in Q4 2019 are currently at four compared to seven deals in Q3 and to nine deals in Q4 2018.

Large deals closed in Q4 2019 are currently at 47 compared to last quarter with only 36 deals. The annual volume for 2019, is currently at 774 deals, and has the lowest annual volume since 2013.

Acquirer Returns Adjusted to the MSCI Regional Index
Figure 2. Acquirer Returns Adjusted to the MSCI Regional Index

NB: The share price returns have been adjusted to Index returns over the corresponding period. The MSCI World Index is used as default, unless stated otherwise.

2020 M&A predictions

Based on short and long-term trends revealed by the data, as well as conversations with clients and colleagues, here are our top M&A predictions for 2020:

  1. 01

    US leads M&A slowdown

    Completed deals are expected to remain low in 2020, driven by a slowdown in US M&A activity. In particular, the annual volume of large deals (valued over $1 billion) in 2019 was 173 — the lowest for five years. Market reluctance to take on big deals may also signal companies stepping up preparations for a recession.

  2. 02

    Europe to retain top spot

    European dealmakers topped the global M&A rankings in 2019 for a second consecutive year, outperforming their regional index by +1.9pp, and we expect this positive trend to continue. Meanwhile, deal volume in the UK last year (31) was at its lowest for a decade, and volume will stay low as long as the risk of a cliff-edge no-deal Brexit remains, keeping business investment at bay for much of 2020.

  3. 03

    China M&A unlikely to improve

    Dealmaking momentum in China plummeted from a record high of 243 deals in 2015 to just 72 in 2019, as trade uncertainties and more recent fears of a global recession took hold. This slowdown, in part due to a sharp decline in outbound Chinese acquisitions, is consistent with a wider trend for fewer M&A deals across the Asia Pacific region and is expected to continue in 2020. 

    Marginally improved deal performance by Asia Pacific dealmakers in 2019 at least suggests some improved stability after a turbulent few years.

  4. 04

    Slower close times expected

    With deals completed in 2019 taking on average 141 days to execute compared to 120 days in 2018, the time taken to complete M&A transactions in the year ahead is likely to increase further. It is likely to get harder to complete cross border deals, which are being slowed down by more rigorous due diligence and the need to prepare for greater regulatory scrutiny.

  5. 05

    Private equity and acqui-hire deals on the rise

    Alternative investors such as PE buyers, armed with record levels of unspent capital, are expected to be increasingly active in 2020, completing larger deals and entering more corporate joint ventures. Their pursuit of rapid returns will however be challenged by a slowing economy, geopolitical strains and regulatory demands. We also expect the rising trend of acqui-hire deals (those completed with the express intent of acquiring talent a buyer could not otherwise hire) to continue to gather pace in 2020.

    Market conditions are becoming increasingly challenging, yet many investors with plenty of dry powder remain cautiously optimistic about the year ahead. Where deal volume has gone down, our analysis often reveals performance has on average improved, as seen in Europe for the last two years. This highlights the strengths of a more disciplined market striking well thought-out strategic deals with greater care and due diligence. Key drivers for pursuing acquisitions in 2020, meanwhile, are likely to remain unchanged from last year, as companies seek access to new markets or respond to tech disruption by acquiring the latest technology or highly skilled workers.

    We expect the rising trend of acqui-hire deals —those completed with the express intent of acquiring talent — to continue to gather pace in 2020.

Willis Towers Watson QDPM Methodology

  • All analysis is conducted from the perspective of the acquirer.
  • Share-price performance within the quarterly study is measured as a percentage change in share price from six months prior to the announcement date to the end of the quarter.
  • All deals where the acquirer owned less than 50% of the shares of the target after the acquisition were removed, hence no minority purchases have been considered. All deals where the acquirer held more than 50% of target shares prior to the acquisition have been removed, hence no remaining purchases have been considered.
  • Only completed M&A deals with a value of at least $100 million which meet the study criteria are included in this research.
  • Deal data sourced from Refinitiv.

Endnote

1MSCI World Index is used as default, unless stated otherwise.

Contacts

Head of Human Capital M&A, Great Britain

Senior Director – Mergers and Acquisitions

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