Global acquirers are on track to record their first annual market outperformance since 2016 - Willis Towers Watson

Global acquirers are on track to record their first annual market outperformance since 2016, according to results from Willis Towers Watson’s Quarterly Deal Performance Monitor (QDPM).

Jana Mercereau, head of Corporate M&A Consulting, Great Britain at Willis Towers Watson, said: “As economic uncertainty melts away from the impact of 2020 lockdowns, companies have embarked on an unprecedented deal spree this year looking to bulk up and address the vulnerabilities it exposed.

“With the deal pipeline at such record levels, it is difficult to see M&A activity slowing in the near term. While the potential is strong, however, the challenges of price, regulation and pressure to deliver target returns leave little or no margin for error.”

At this pace, with 748 deals completed so far this year, total M&A activity for 2021 could overtake the all-time high of 1,041 completed deals recorded in 2015, according to data compiled by Willis Towers Watson and the M&A Research Centre at The Bayes Business School (formerly Cass).

The surge in deals has primarily been driven by a sharp rise in activity by North American buyers, responsible for more than half of all deals completed globally during Q3 2021.

The M&A data for Q3 2021 revealed acquirers in both North America and Europe struggling to match the positive results achieved in the first six months of 2021.

During the same period, only Asia-Pacific buyers managed to outperform their regional Index with a strong quarterly result (+27.8pp) and their best since Q4 2016 (+72.8pp). 

Nearly a third (215) of the 748 deals completed in the last nine months have been large – valued at over $1 billion. With this trend expected to continue into the final quarter, activity at this level is likely to breach new highs, building on the record-breaking streak from the start of 2021.

Mercereau said: “After a period of significant volatility, more companies willing to undertake larger deals signals a more stable market, with the forces driving global strategic activity still in place, including a positive economic outlook, an abundance of dry powder and access to inexpensive debt.

“At the same time, competition remains intense, more robust scrutiny of large M&A is expected, and deals are becoming more complicated as companies try to acquire new capabilities often far removed from their traditional core business.

”As M&A transactions grow in quantity and size, integration planning starting in due diligence will become ever more important for buyers looking to lock in gains and achieve transformative growth.”