Q4 Flash Report: M&A Deal, Dollar Volume Both Dip
A Merger Monday on Thanksgiving week put an exclamation point on what seemed to be a terrific year in M&A.
Charles Schwab Corp.’s (SCHW) agreement to buy TD Ameritrade Holding Corp. (AMTD) highlighted the return of financial services dealmaking after a decade of quiescence, while LVMH Moet Hennessey Louis Vuitton SE’s $16.2 billion deal for Tiffany & Co. (TIF) showed the continued ability of activist investors to drive big-ticket M&A and Novartis AG’s proposed $9.7 billion purchase of Medicines Co. (MDCO) was only the latest in a long run of pharma deals.
According to Dealogic, the source of all figures in this article, through Dec. 19 there were 912 U.S. deals of $100 million or more in 2019 worth a total of $1.593 trillion, on par with 2015 as highest dollar value in at least the last five years. (All figures are for deals of $100 million or more.)
But the figures from the second half of the year are far less imposing. Through December, there were 415 deals of $100 million or more in 2019 worth a total of $496 billion, which on an annualized basis would be the worst year for U.S. M&A in at least the last five.
Deal volume of 204 in the fourth quarter was the lowest in at least the last five years, and the 213 deals in the first quarter of 2019 the second-lowest. That’s doesn’t account for a rising stock market that should inflate 2019 figures, all else being equal. Private equity activity also slowed in the second half, which has seen deal volume 20% below the quarterly average over the last five years with activity by dollar volume off 28%.
There are no obvious reasons for the second-half swoon. Debt is cheap and equity values robust. Private equity firms have lots of money to put to work and keep raising more. However much attention Brexit and President Donald Trump garner, neither is a new factor for dealmakers, since both have been creating uncertainty since 2016. A more aggressive Cfius regime has made cross-border dealmaking more challenging for U.S. companies, but regulatory pressures have eased in other areas.
Gloomy second-half statistics notwithstanding, there are reasons for optimism. No one should be happier than financial services M&A specialists. BB&T Corp.’s March agreement to buy SunTrust Banks Inc. for $28 billion was by far the largest commercial bank deal since the aftermath of the great financial crisis, and there were several bank deals in the $3 billion to $5 billion range this year. Bank CEOs who’ve been waiting to buy — or exercise their gold parachutes by selling — can now do so.
Tiffany’s was only the most prominent example of activist-driven M&A in the fourth quarter. In the week before Christmas alone, TiVo Corp. (TIVO) agreed to a merger with Xperi Corp. (XPER) under pressure from Engaged Capital LLC’s Glenn Welling, while LogMeIn Inc. (LOGM) agreed to a $4.3 billion sale to Francisco Partners Management LLC and Evergreen Coast Capital Corp., an affiliate of Paul Singer’s Elliott Management Corp., which pushed LogMeIn into the sale.
And pharma’s need for new product remains insatiable. The year began with Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.’s (BMY) announcement that it had agreed to by Celgene Corp. for $74 billion, a deal that closed Nov. 20, and it concluded with a flurry of four pharma deals, each of which was worth at least $2.5 billion.
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