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Press Release

Global M&A slowdown by listed acquirers to continue in 2020, yet opportunities exist for successful deals

Challenging global environment and continuing trade tensions are expected to act as a drag on Asia Pacific M&A activity with a more selective approach to acquisitions by some listed acquirers, while private equity acquirers are expected to remain active

January 21, 2020

Mergers and Acquisitions

HONG KONG AND SINGAPORE, 20 January 2020 — The global M&A market, with performance in steady decline since its peak in 2015, is forecast to continue to struggle to add value for listed companies making acquisitions in 2020, based on long-term data compiled by Willis Towers Watson and Cass Business School. Listed companies making acquisitions worldwide underperformed the Global Index by -5.0pp (percentage points) over the past year for deals valued over $100 million1 , based on share-price performance, and have now on average failed to add value from deals for three consecutive years. These exclude private equity buyers and non-listed acquirers.

Global dealmaking by listed companies is also at its slowest pace in six years, with 774 transactions completed over $100 million worldwide in 2019, significantly down compared to 2018 (904) and the lowest annual volume recorded since 2013 (720). Forty-two per cent of these deals were unable to add shareholder value in 2019.

Global M&A deals by listed acquirers – average performance

Global M&A deals – average performance

2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019
Average Annual Performance (percentage points)* 3.2 4.0 2.7 -0.7 4.5 5.5 10.1 5.4 -1.3 -3.0 -5.0

*The figures in the table show the annual median-adjusted performance of all acquirers.

Pockets of opportunities remain in Asia Pacific, with Japanese corporate outbound M&A ambitions likely to remain a priority in face of sluggish organic growth. We are also expecting dealmakers to increasingly recognise Southeast Asia’s long-term potential as we move into the second half of 2020.”

Massimo Borghello, Head of Corporate Mergers and Acquisitions
Human Capital and Benefits, for Asia Pacific at Willis Towers Watson

Massimo Borghello, Head of Corporate Mergers and Acquisitions, Human Capital and Benefits, for Asia Pacific, said: “Last year, the global picture for M&As by listed acquirers was patchy at best. As regulatory, trade and economic uncertainties persist, the market is likely to continue at a slow pace in 2020, particularly as we do not expect a major pick-up in China M&A volumes in the near term. However, pockets of opportunities will remain, with Japanese corporate outbound M&A ambitions likely to remain a priority in face of sluggish organic growth. We are also expecting dealmakers to increasingly recognise Southeast Asia’s long-term potential as we move into the second half of 2020.”

Terence Montgomery, Head of Mergers and Acquisitions, Transactional Risks, for Asia Pacific, added, “Listed acquirers aside, regional and global M&A volume is also highly driven by private equity and non-listed acquirers whom we regularly see achieving strong performance. Market conditions have become more challenging for certain sectors and geographies, yet significant amounts of available funds exist and many investors remain cautiously optimistic about the year ahead. We see increased interest by dealmakers in larger deal sizes and take privates, and wider exploration of new sectors and geographies (including outbound Asia). Deals will be done, but perhaps at slower timetables other than for the most highly sought-after targets.”

2020 M&A predictions for listed acquirers

Based on short and long-term trends revealed by the data, as well as conversations with clients and colleagues, Willis Towers Watson’s global M&A predictions for 2020 are:

  1. 01

    US leads M&A slowdown

    Completed deals are expected to remain low in 2020, driven by a slowdown in US M&A activity. In particular, the annual volume of large deals (valued over $1 billion) by listed acquirers in 2019 was 173 - the lowest for five years. Market reluctance to take on big deals may also signal listed companies stepping up preparations for a recession.

  2. 02

    Asia Pacific performance to stablise but China M&A unlikely to improve

    Asia Pacific deals by listed acquirers saw some improved performance in 2019, suggesting some improved stability after a turbulent few years. In terms of volume, dealmaking momentum in China by listed acquirers plummeted from a record high of 243 deals in 2015 to just 72 in 2019, as trade uncertainties and more recent fears of a global recession took hold. This slowdown, partly due to a sharp decline in outbound Chinese acquisitions, is consistent with a wider trend for fewer M&A deals by listed acquirers across the Asia Pacific region and is expected to continue in 2020.

  3. 03

    Europe performance to continue

    European deals by listed acquirers in 2019 outperformed the regional index by +1.9pp, and we expect this positive trend to continue. Meanwhile, deal volume by listed acquirers in the UK last year (31) was at its lowest for a decade, and volume is expected to stay low as long as the risk of a cliff-edge no-deal Brexit remains, keeping listed acquirer investment at bay for much of 2020.

  4. 04

    Slower close times expected

    With deals completed in 2019 taking on average 141 days to execute compared to 120 days in 2018, the time taken to complete M&A transactions in the year ahead is unlikely to decrease particularly for cross border deals subject to regulatory scrunity.

  5. 05

    Private equity and acqui-hire deals on the rise

    Private equity and non-listed buyers, armed with record levels of unspent capital, are expected to be increasingly active in 2020, completing more deals and entering into larger deal sizes, new sectors, more geographies and more corporate joint ventures. Their pursuit of rapid returns will however be challenged by a slowing economy, geopolitical strains and regulatory demands. We also expect the rising trend of acqui-hire deals (those completed with the express intent of acquiring talent a buyer could not otherwise hire) to continue to gather pace in 2020.

Willis Towers Watson QDPM methodology

  • All analysis is conducted from the perspective of the listed acquirer.
  • Share-price performance within the quarterly study is measured as a percentage change in share price from six months prior to the announcement date to the end of the quarter.
  • All deals where the listed acquirer owned less than 50% of the shares of the target after the acquisition were removed, hence no minority purchases have been considered. All deals where the listed acquirer held more than 50% of target shares prior to the acquisition have been removed, hence no remaining purchases have been considered.
  • Only completed M&A deals with a value of at least $100 million which meet the study criteria are included in this research.
  • Deal data sourced from Refinitiv.

About Willis Towers Watson M&A

Willis Towers Watson’s M&A practice combines our expertise in risk and human capital to offer a full range of M&A services and solutions covering all stages of the M&A process. We have particular expertise in the areas of planning, due diligence, risk transfer and post transaction integration, areas that define the success of any transaction.

About Willis Towers Watson

Willis Towers Watson (NASDAQ: WLTW) is a leading global advisory, broking and solutions company that helps clients around the world turn risk into a path for growth. With roots dating to 1828, Willis Towers Watson has 45,000 employees serving in more than 140 countries and markets. We design and deliver solutions that manage risk, optimise benefits, cultivate talent, and expand the power of capital to protect and strengthen institutions and individuals. Our unique perspective allows us to see the critical intersections between talent, assets and ideas — the dynamic formula that drives business performance. Together, we unlock potential. Learn more at

1 The M&A research tracks the number of completed deals by listed acquirers over $100 million and the share price performance of the acquiring company against the MSCI World Index, which is used as default, unless stated otherwise.

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