Last month the volume of M&A deals hit a 12-year high as desperate CEOs looked beyond internal growth at other ways to build their business, also taking advantage of short-term economic and political benefits.
While investors were digesting news of AT&T’s potential $85bn acquisition of Time Warner, a series of mergers flooded the market, including wireless company Qualcomm who announced plans to buy semiconductor firm NXP for $47bn. This led to an unusual spike in M&A activity last month.
Concerns that the regulatory environment could change post election, combined with the likelihood of a interest rate hike in December, has meant that companies are taking advantage of the current climate to propose M&A deals before its too late.
“There is still an environment of opportunity and cheap money so if you are going to do a transaction, do it before rates go up,” said Ivan Feinseth, analyst at Tigress Partners.
This spike is symptomatic of a bigger issue. Growth has stalled as demand from emerging markets peters out and countries like China, India and Brazil face economic difficulty. With these former growth markets in decline, CEOs are looking for other ways to grow their business.
The current stock market environment favours hyped up companies with high potential and investors are giving less attention to others with more stable revenue performance. Digitalization has also impacted these traditional industries and as some executives scramble to find solutions, they are forced to take higher risks to improve growth. This, in turn, drives high priced mergers.
“I believe it’s a sign of fear, said Christian Madsbjerg, partner of Red Associates, a consulting firm that advises executives and companies on strategy. “These technologies are having a powerful impact in a number of industries including energy and automotive. This is what enforces that panic among executives. They are afraid that their companies are going to be irrelevant,” he said.
Despite political and economic uncertainty analysts expect these deals to continue well into 2017, though on a smaller scale.
“There are very few enticing candidates left,” said Abhinav Davuluri, analyst at Morningstar. “I think anything that will occur won’t be on the scale that we have seen in the past few six to eight quarters,” he said.
In the energy sector, low oil prices and a continued move towards renewable sources is forcing energy companies to reassess their business models and invest elsewhere. This has driven an increase in mergers as they build companies of the future. Last week, General Electric announced plans to merge their oil and gas business with Baker Hughes; a deal which would make GE’s new division worth $32m.
For telecommunications companies such as AT&T the future could be content. Their acquisition of DirectTV last year and the potential Time Warner deal marks an acknowledgment that current revenue streams are not sustainable.
“The wireless business is plateauing. There are looking for a whole new set of customers that they don’t currently tap,” said Nail. “Content is emperor,” he said.