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Q2 2021 - M&A performance in North America and Europe keeps pace with record rate

Q2 2021 Quarterly Deal Performance Monitor

Mergers and Acquisitions
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By Jana Mercereau and Duncan Smithson | July 20, 2021

For the first time in four years, dealmaking performance beats non-acquirers for second consecutive quarter.

Global merger and acquisition (M&A) activity set new records in the second quarter, eclipsing previous highs reached in the first three months of the year and putting 2021 on track to be the most active year ever. The unprecedented surge in dealmaking follows a robust rebound in economic confidence, as companies race to remake themselves in the face of a post-COVID-19 world and sweeping technological change.

Based on share price performance, buyers outclassed the wider market1 by +2.1pp (percentage points) for deals valued over $100 million in the second quarter of 2021. According to Willis Towers Watson’s Quarterly Deal Performance Monitor (QDPM), this is the first time since 2017 that acquirers have managed to outperform for two consecutive quarters. For the one year rolling period, acquirers bettered the M&A index by +3.2pp on the back of a very strong first quarter.

Bar graph showing share price performance of M and A deals globally
Figure 1. M&A deals globally: share price performance

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.

U.S. deal volume up 244% in Q2 2021 compared to Q2 2020 and up 58% since Q1 2021

This is one of the busiest times we’ve ever seen, with the M&A market in full-rebound mode across nearly every sector, propelled by cash-rich corporates under pressure to reorganise in response to COVID-19.

Concerns persist that inflation could spike later this year, triggering a hike in interest rates and an end to a record M&A boom. However, such fears seem premature with the current frenzy of activity fuelled by market dynamics likely to sustain or even accelerate deal flow in the second half of 2021, namely ongoing pressure to deploy capital, acquire technological capabilities and respond to rising shareholder activism.

Run in partnership with the M&A Research Centre at The Business School (formerly Cass), the data show that the surge in deals and improved performance, which started toward the end of 2020 after plummeting in the early days of the pandemic, remains largely due to activity in North America and Europe.

For the third consecutive quarter, with SPACS continuing to play a large part, North American acquirers outperformed their regional index (+1.6pp), as volumes increased sharply by 58% since the previous quarter and by 244% compared to Q2 2020 (52 to 179 deals), resulting in the region’s highest ever figures for any quarter since 2008.

Bar graph showing share price performance of M and A deals regionally
Figure 2. M&A deals regionally: share price performance

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.

Buyers from Europe continued their strong form by outperforming their regional index by +6.4pp with a burst of activity in Q2 2021 and 59 deals completed. This too was an all-time high for a second quarter. Meanwhile, Britain clearly remains an attractive M&A destination for non-UK acquirers who, undeterred by Brexit and a strong FTSE 100 performance, continue to demonstrate interest in buying UK companies. UK-based dealmakers also consistently outperformed their regional Index over the last 12 months (+11.4pp).

Europe dealmaking in Q2 2021 up 40%, but Asia Pacific market sees sharp slowdown

In contrast, Asia-Pacific acquirers underperformed their regional index by -0.7pp with only 32 deals closing in Q2 2021, the lowest since 2014. China also completed the smallest number of deals since 2013, as Chinese acquisition volumes continue to fade from a peak in 2015.

M&A activity has clearly continued the momentum gained following an explosive first three months of 2021 as acquisition-hungry buyers completed more deals than any second quarter on record (278 deals), according to these latest results from the Willis Towers Watson index. This is a significant upswing, even when compared to the brisk pace set in the first quarter of 2021 (206 deals).

Bar graph showing global deal volume by quarter
Figure 3. Global deal volume by quarter

The data reveals that the first half of the year has also been a record-breaking period with 484 deals completed, 58% higher than the same period in 2020 (307 deals), when the global economy came to a halt because of the pandemic. This is the highest ever figure recorded for the January to June period since Willis Towers Watson launched its M&A index in 2008.

Companies are pressing the reset button in response to the pandemic, restructuring to build resilience, reduce costs and reposition for future growth.”

Jana Mercereau | Head of Human Capital M&A, Great Britain

Companies are pressing the reset button in response to the pandemic, restructuring to build resilience, reduce costs and reposition for future growth, effectively accelerating pre-existing trends such as digital transformation and changes in consumer behaviour. Robust sell-side activity driven by companies continuing to divest non-core assets points to a strong M&A outlook for the remainder of 2021.

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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.

Post-COVID-19, attention will return to the growing wave of decarbonisation, perhaps the greatest global disrupter in the years and decades to come. As more companies commit to wholesale transformation of business and operating models to meet aggressive net-zero goals, M&A looks certain to play a pivotal part in this low carbon transition. In a process that will create winners and losers, quality due diligence and improved integration will become increasingly important for successful, profitable and equitable deals.

Footnote

1. The M&A research tracks the number of completed deals over $100m and the share price performance of the acquiring company against the MSCI World Index, which 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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