Despite mounting geopolitical complexities, the appetite for global mergers and acquisitions (M&A) is at a 10-year high, according to the 20th edition of the EY Global Capital Confidence Barometer (CCB), a biannual survey of more than 2,900 senior executives across 47 countries. Companies continue to use acquisitions to build the foundations for future growth amid rising uncertainty. Almost six in ten (59%) global companies are now planning to acquire in the coming year — up from 52% 12 months ago.
Executives also expect their peers to be active at the deal table, with 92% of respondents predicting the global M&A market to improve in the next year compared with 86% in April 2018.
“We see a number of beneficial effects driving greater transaction volumes. The fast-growing business companies that have matured for private equity funds, which are driving some of the transactions, are highly noticeable. And there is spill-over between the old and the so-called new economies, where growing, promising services-based companies are being purchased,“ says Vladislav Severa, lead partner of EY’s Advanced Data Analysis Team.
M&A intentions are underpinned by broader corporate confidence. In stark contrast to many economists forecasting slower growth and despite geopolitical uncertainty, global executives are more optimistic about macroeconomic prospects. The vast majority of respondents (93%) believe the global economy is improving – a 20 point uptick in positive outlook compared with 73% a year ago. This bullish view among executives is reflected in the optimistic assessments of their own future performance: 76% of respondents expect revenue growth of between 6% and 15% in the next year.
“The increase in acquisition appetite is a clear indication that executives are focused on their pursuit of growth, underpinned by high expectations of their own future performance. There is uncertainty in the market, but for many – disruption is driving M&A rather than stalling it – deals are a means to reshape portfolios at an accelerated pace and futureproof businesses,” says Steve Krouskos, EY Global Vice Chair – Transaction Advisory Services and continues: “Companies are proactively realigning portfolios by buying and selling to futureproof growth. In a digitally enabled hyper-speed world, innovation often means turning your biggest risk into an opportunity.”
Executives while focused on deals and growth, have not lost sight of risks. A third (33%) see a potential economic slowdown as the primary concern, although they do not expect it. A similar number (27%) believe geopolitical, regulatory and trade uncertainties are the greatest external risks to their growth.
Reshaping portfolios to reinvent the future
Companies worldwide are increasingly concentrating on proactively seizing disruption’s upside opportunities and managing risks, according to the latest findings. As the speed of disruption and innovation accelerate, so does the frequency of portfolio reviews.
More than a third (41%) of companies are reviewing their portfolios every three months compared with less than 10% a year ago. Frequent portfolio reviews allow companies to better identify areas for investments and acquisitions at speed, to recognize assets to divest and to improve capital allocation strategies.
Shareholder activist pressure is also prompting more frequent portfolio assessments. Activist pressure to reshape portfolios is geared towards reconfiguring operations or geographic footprint (35% of respondents) and to divesting (28%). It is also leading to pressures for an acquisition for more than a third of respondents (37%).
“Activist shareholders are pushing management to optimize the financial position of their companies, for example, through the partial sale of attractive divisions in IPOs and using the funds to reduce debt, make other investments or even pay dividends,” says Štěpán Flieger, director of EY’s Mergers & Acquisitions Department.
UK climbs to top investment destination and China looks to US
Despite continued uncertainty stemming from its intention to leave the European Union (EU), the UK climbs to number one spot in the top investment destinations for the first time in the survey’s 10-year history – up from its lowest 7th position in October 2016 and displacing the United States (US) which held the top spot since 2014. The UK is followed by the United States, Germany, China, France, Canada, India, Australia, Brazil and the United Arab Emirates.
While the UK’s position may surprise some given current uncertainty, M&A activity during the period since the 2016 EU Referendum has remained strong. In 2018, the country accounted for 10% of M&A globally worth a combined US$400b – its second-best year since the financial crisis – with domestic mergers boosted by strong inbound and outbound flows.
Another surprising finding sees China climb back into the top five investment destinations, even as concerns about market access and reciprocity with the US and the EU continue. And despite issues over protectionism, the US is a top destination of choice for nine of the ten most active cross-border investors, including China.
“Geopolitical issues create significant challenges, but executives are determined to overcome perceived barriers and secure – or expand – their presence in markets that support their long-term strategic goals. While nationalism may fuel much political debate, technology has made the world a smaller place and executives remain international in their search for growth,” says Steve Krouskos.
All roads lead to deals
Corporate executives expect their deal strategies to face significant competition – 90% expect an increase in hostile and competitive bidding in the next year. At the same time, 88% expect more competition for assets from private equity and 80% foresee more megadeals (US$10b and above).
“Our first EY Global Capital Confidence Barometer launched 10 years ago in the wake of the global financial crisis reflected great unease across markets. One major difference between now and then is how the C-suite views uncertainty. In 2009, boardrooms were paralyzed by uncertainty. Today they are motivated by uncertainty. The boardroom of 2019 is concentrating on proactively managing risks and seizing the upside opportunities of disruption,” adds Steve Krouskos.