Avoid pausing M&A in a downturn

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Businesses typically respond to market downturns by pausing M&A. Convention suggests that it’s too risky to do deals when the economic outlook is uncertain and financing is harder, and this is reflected in M&A deal volumes. Recessions always lead to a drop in deals. But research shows that companies are wrong to be cautious. 

Looking at the winners and losers from previous recessions reveals that consistent M&A activity through all economic cycles generates the highest returns. Companies that were active acquirers before the global financial crisis in 2008 performed best by staying active during the recession, according to research by Bain

These companies earned an average shareholder return of 6.1% during the decade from 2007, compared to a return of 3.8% for companies that were active pre-recession but moved to the sidelines during the crisis. The gap is even bigger when comparing companies that were inactive in M&A generally.

PwC found a similar effect on returns during the collapse of the dot.com bubble. Just one year later, companies that had completed acquisitions during the recession in 2001 out-performed the overall sector by double digits. Throughout 2022 and now in 2023, Richelle Ros, partner at Kruger Corporate Finance notices an increase in distressed situations. “Increasingly, we see over-indebted companies whose interest and repayment obligations can no longer be met by the operation and bankruptcy is imminent.” Is now the time for acquirers to step in?

Why consistent M&A works

There are several factors that may help to explain these research findings.

  • Buyer’s market. Deal multiples are lower during recessions and terms are usually weighted in favour of buyers, which increases the potential upside. Indeed, there are often opportunities to buy deeply discounted companies or assets as the challenging economic conditions lead to a wave of distressed situations. The valuation of such assets typically bounces back quickly after a recession.
  • Confidence. Practice makes perfect when it comes to M&A. The types of companies that have the confidence to continue closing deals during a downturn tend to be those that have the most experience. By building M&A as a core competency within the organisation, they have the expertise to execute deals throughout the economic cycle — and they are more likely to make such deals work.
  • Capital. Access to capital is obviously a key factor in being able to continue making acquisitions. Companies with a proven track record of successfully generating value through M&A will find it easier to finance deals in a recession, when companies with a lesser track record may struggle.
  • Cost savings. M&A can always lead to lower costs, but during a recession this effect may be amplified as competitors who sit on the sidelines struggle to find the same savings. Needless to say, lower costs result in higher profits.

All of these factors can help serial acquirers to jump ahead of the competition and gain an advantage in terms of market share or strategic position, which can quickly result in higher profit growth when the economy bounces back. According to Richelle Ros, Distressed M&A could not only be a solution for the continuity of operations or activities of a company but could also have high value for the acquirer because of the possible discount to ‘market value’. 

M&A is a tool, not the goal

The key to earning these higher returns is to use M&A as a tool to achieve strategic objectives. Being an active deal-maker isn’t the end goal. Acquisitions can be used to add technologies or skills, to expand into new markets or sectors, or to achieve any other corporate objectives. The point is that companies can achieve their objectives faster and more efficiently than their competitors by regularly exercising their M&A muscle.

Consistent acquirers are also more successful at making deals work, which means they’re better placed to take advantage of the opportunities that arise during downturns. Indeed, Bain’s research shows that the worst-performing M&A deals are those involving infrequent acquirers.

Dealsuite facilitates a consistent approach to M&A by greatly improving your ability to source deals and by directly connecting M&A professionals who know how to get deals over the finish line.

As a cross-border platform, Dealsuite also enables another recession-busting quality of M&A: diversification. Economic downturns affect different countries to different degrees. By spreading risk across a bigger geographic footprint, companies can achieve a more balanced portfolio and lower their overall risk.

Contact us at Dealsuite to help you find the perfect deal in these uncertain economic times.

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