Last summer was the busiest in decades for mergers and acquisitions, with more than $1 trillion worth of transactions around the world in the third quarter. That comes after a very slow first two quarters, when the uncertainty around the pandemic put deals on hold. So what’s with the corporate rush to buy and sell, and what do trends within those deals mean?
You’ve heard all the clichés. The bigger the better. Strength in numbers. Go big or go home. In a pandemic, clichés may not be so bad.
“In times of turbulence like this, companies’ strategies need to change,” said Steve Morrissette, who teaches mergers and acquisitions at the University of Chicago. He said right now smaller companies need access to bigger corporations’ cash. And corporations can get better value.
“So maybe we avoid dumb deals and avoid overpaying during a recession,” Morrissette said.
A recession can also shift what kinds of deals are made. Corporations see value in diversifying their portfolios, which usually means buying brands that complement their existing business.
But think about Walmart’s bid to buy part of TikTok. That would make a very diverse portfolio. Asish Ramchandran, a principal in the Merger & Acquisition Consultative Services practice of Deloitte Consulting, said big companies can make fundamental shifts when the market swings.
“Companies that have got a sound strategy behind the scenes, they are looking and waiting where they can step in and make a deal,” he said.
Meanwhile, some corporations are pulling back from diversifying geographically. Last quarter, international deals fell.
“So how do you actually go verify if a factory is actually capable of scaling up production in Asia if you cannot actually do a site visit,” Ramchandran said.
Plus, the pandemic has disrupted global supply chains.
“Once you’ve made those investments and your supply chain is built through China, if something happens there, then that’s actually a risky thing,” said Myles Shaver, who teaches strategic management at the University of Minnesota.
He said companies with the smartest strategies are using merger and acquisition deals to get ahead of the pandemic and look at how business will look once it’s over.
COVID-19 Economy FAQs
What’s the outlook for vaccine supply?
Chief executives of America’s COVID-19 vaccine makers promised in congressional testimony to deliver the doses promised to the U.S. government by summer. The projections of confidence come after months of supply chain challenges and companies falling short of year-end projections for 2020. What changed? In part, drugmakers that normally compete are now actually helping one another. This has helped solve several supply chain issues, but not all of them.
How has the pandemic changed scientific research?
Over the past year, while some scientists turned their attention to COVID-19 and creating vaccines to fight it, most others had to pause their research — and re-imagine how to do it. Social distancing, limited lab capacity — “It’s less fun, I have to say. Like, for me the big part of the science is discussing the science with other people, getting excited about projects,” said Isabella Rauch, an immunologist at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. Funding is also a big question for many.
What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?
Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”
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