Global dealmakers achieved a third consecutive quarter of market outperformance in the first three months of 2023, according to research on completed deals from WTW’s Quarterly Deal Performance Monitor (QDPM).1 Based on share price performance, companies making M&A deals outclassed the wider market2 by +1.0 percentage points for acquisitions valued over $100 million between January and March 2023. This follows a positive performance of +5.2 percentage points in the previous quarter.
Run in partnership with the M&A Research Centre at The Bayes Business School, the data reveal that the marginally positive performance of Q1 2023 has been driven by Asia Pacific deal activity, where buyers outperformed their regional index by +13.8 percentage points. With 43 deals closed in Q1 2023, the region saw a 7% drop in volume compared with Q1 2022.
M&A deal activity also slowed significantly around the world, recording its lowest first quarter figures since 2015, with 157 deals completed worldwide in Q1 2023 compared with the corresponding quarter of 2022 (220 deals) and the final three months of 2022 (202 deals).
The slowdown in deal activity, however, has been far more pronounced in other regions. North American acquirers underperformed their index by –3.9 percentage points, with 79 deals closed between January and March, representing a sharp 32% decline in M&A activity compared with Q1 2022. Dealmakers from Europe, which continues to face more disruption and uncertainty, underperformed their index by –7.4 percentage points, with 30 deals completed in Q1 2023, down a substantial 39% in volume compared with Q1 2022.
David Dean, managing director, M&A Consulting, WTW, said: “The sharp decline in M&A deals completing this quarter is the inevitable hangover effect following an astounding year in 2021, compounded by the macroeconomic and geopolitical headwinds that bruised the market last year.
“At the same time, M&A markets are far from closed. The number of deals we’re seeing in the pipeline has not dropped at all, but many have made slower progress toward completion, or have paused, as buyers adopt a ‘wait and see’ approach. Dealmakers remain fairly bullish and believe M&A activity will increase in the second half of 2023 as markets stabilize and interest rates level.”
The need to adopt new technologies and talent, reach new markets and reinvent supply chains to build resilience has seen cross-sector deals reach their highest level since the WTW M&A study began in 2008.
The WTW data also show the median time to close deals in Q1 2023 has been the slowest since 2008, with 71% of all deals now taking at least 70 days to complete, compared with 53% less than 18 months ago. This trend is directly linked to the rise in cross-sector acquisitions, which typically require more time to evaluate and assess before closing, as well as the wider need for robust due diligence from both a performance and risk management perspective.
Dean said: “There are tremendous opportunities to explore for acquiring companies, especially corporates and PE [private equity] funds with high levels of capital. Some sectors that have been resilient or benefitted from the pandemic, such as technology or healthcare, may continue to see strong demand. The banking industry is also expected to see significant consolidation, while the technology, media and telecom sector has never been hotter.
“For buyers pursuing deals in the current uncertain economic climate, it will be more important than ever to conduct disciplined due diligence and dive deeper into potential weaknesses in a target. Retaining and integrating new employees after a deal closes will also be critical for the acquisition to deliver value, especially if the objective is to boost talent by acqui-hiring. This means well-crafted retention incentives must be a top priority, especially in today’s tight labor market.”
1 The QDPM research for Q1 2023 includes deals completed between January 1, 2023, and March 28, 2023. We anticipate the current number of deals of 157 to increase by quarter end.
2 The M&A research tracks the number of completed deals 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.