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Press Release

Global M&A performance set for record-breaking year

April 13, 2021

Deal-making performance hits all-time high for a first quarter, largely due to North America
Mergers and Acquisitions

ARLINGTON, VA, April 13, 2021 — Global mergers and acquisitions (M&A) performance surged in the first quarter of this year, continuing the momentum gained in the final months of 2020 and fueled by a flurry of completed deals. This represents an extraordinary rebound of deal activity and performance, even as ongoing waves of COVID-19 continue to trigger lockdowns and affect the world economy.

Based on share price performance, buyers outperformed the market1 by +13.8 percentage points for deals valued over $100 million in the first three months of 2021. These are the second highest figures for any quarter since Willis Towers Watson launched the Quarterly Deal Performance Monitor (QDPM) in 2011. The data also maintain the long-term trend for deals outperforming the market since the global financial crisis (+2.3 percentage points).

Run in partnership with the M&A Research Centre at The Business School (formerly Cass), the data underscore the scale of the rebound in deal-making activity, which started toward the end of last year after plummeting in the early days of the pandemic. The number of deals was up by 21% from a year ago, with 206 deals completed in the first three months of 2021 (compared with 170 in the first quarter of 2020).

This rise in deals is largely due to the North American region, where volumes were up 33% year on year, and makes the first quarter of 2021 the region’s second largest first quarter on record. North American acquirers also outperformed their regional index by +16.3 percentage points, the second consecutive quarter the region has achieved a positive performance.

“U.S.-based deals are responsible for much of this remarkable resurgence in activity, which looks set to continue through 2021, triggered by the Biden administration’s $2 trillion dollar infrastructure and economic stimulus plan, booming stock markets, vast sums of cash to deploy and sustained low interest rates,” said Duncan Smithson, senior director, Mergers and Acquisitions, Willis Towers Watson.

Acquirers from Europe continued their strong form by outperforming their regional index by +12.1 percentage points in the first quarter of 2021, with U.K. buyers also adding value in this period. Meanwhile, Asia Pacific acquirers strongly outperformed their regional index by +17.0 percentage points.

The first three months of the year saw 58 large deals completed (deals in the range of $1 billion to $10 billion), compared with 44 in the first quarter of 2020, which is the highest first quarter result since 2008. Deal-making performance also improved in every sector of the economy, an almost unprecedented outcome.

“Since the first half of 2020, when the spread of COVID-19 led to many deals being delayed, confidence has returned allied with a more pragmatic and strategic focus on owning the right portfolio of assets for the long run. A shrinking pool of targets and increasing competition, however, could put buyers under pressure to buy more quickly. With financial conditions still uncertain, deal makers will need to resist the temptation to cut corners on due diligence and take the time to review their targets and understand which levers to pull to maximize growth,” said Smithson.

Willis Towers Watson QDPM methodology

  • All analysis is conducted from the perspective of the 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 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 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 that meet the study criteria are included in this research.
  • Deal data are 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, optimize 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.


1 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.

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