Mergers and Acquisitions

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The phrase mergers and acquisitions (abbreviated M&A) refers to the aspect of corporate strategy, corporate finance and management dealing with the buying, selling and combining of different companies that can aid, finance, or help a growing company in a given industry grow rapidly without having to create another business entity.

Motives behind M&A

The dominant rationale used to explain M&A activity is that acquiring firms seek improved financial performance. The following motives are considered to improve financial performance:

  • Economy of scale: This refers to the fact that the combined company can often reduce its fixed costs by removing duplicate departments or operations, lowering the costs of the company relative to the same revenue stream, thus increasing profit margins.
  • Increased revenue or market share: This assumes that the buyer will be absorbing a major competitor and thus increase its market power (by capturing increased market share) to set prices.
  • Cross-selling: For example, a bank buying a stock broker could then sell its banking products to the stock broker’s customers, while the broker can sign up the bank’s customers for brokerage accounts. Or, a manufacturer can acquire and sell complementary products.
  • Synergy: For example, managerial economies such as the increased opportunity of managerial specialization. Another example are purchasing economies due to increased order size and associated bulk-buying discounts.
  • Taxation: A profitable company can buy a loss maker to use the target’s loss as their advantage by reducing their tax liability. In the United States and many other countries, rules are in place to limit the ability of profitable companies to “shop” for loss making companies, limiting the tax motive of an acquiring company.
  • Geographical or other diversification: This is designed to smooth the earnings results of a company, which over the long term smoothens the stock price of a company, giving conservative investors more confidence in investing in the company. However, this does not always deliver value to shareholders (see below).
  • Resource transfer: resources are unevenly distributed across firms (Barney, 1991) and the interaction of target and acquiring firm resources can create value through either overcoming information asymmetry or by combining scarce resources.
  • Vertical integration: Vertical integration occurs when an upstream and downstream firm merge (or one acquires the other). There are several reasons for this to occur. One reason is to internalise an externality problem. A common example is of such an externality is double marginalization. Double marginalization occurs when both the upstream and downstream firms have monopoly power, each firm reduces output from the competitive level to the monopoly level, creating two deadweight losses. By merging the vertically integrated firm can collect one deadweight loss by setting the upstream firm’s output to the competitive level. This increases profits and consumer surplus. A merger that creates a vertically integrated firm can be profitable.

Vertical integration may also be driven by reduction of transaction costs (particularly credit related) and risk mitigation

However, on average and across the most commonly studied variables, acquiring firms’ financial performance does not positively change as a function of their acquisition activity. Therefore, additional motives for merger and acquisition that may not add shareholder value include:

  • Diversification: While this may hedge a company against a downturn in an individual industry it fails to deliver value, since it is possible for individual shareholders to achieve the same hedge by diversifying their portfolios at a much lower cost than those associated with a merger.
  • Manager’s hubris: manager’s overconfidence about expected synergies from M&A which results in overpayment for the target company.
  • Empire-building: Managers have larger companies to manage and hence more power.
  • Manager’s compensation: In the past, certain executive management teams had their payout based on the total amount of profit of the company, instead of the profit per share, which would give the team a perverse incentive to buy companies to increase the total profit while decreasing the profit per share (which hurts the owners of the company, the shareholders); although some empirical studies show that compensation is linked to profitability rather than mere profits of the company.

Cross-border M&A

In a study conducted in 2000 by Lehman Brothers, it was found that, on average, large M&A deals cause the domestic currency of the target corporation to appreciate by 1% relative to the acquirer’s. For every $1-billion deal, the currency of the target corporation increased in value by 0.5%. More specifically, the report found that in the period immediately after the deal is announced, there is generally a strong upward movement in the target corporation’s domestic currency (relative to the acquirer’s currency). Fifty days after the announcement, the target currency is then, on average, 1% stronger.

The rise of globalization has exponentially increased the market for cross border M&A. In 1996 alone there were over 2000 cross border transactions worth a total of approximately $256 billion. This rapid increase has taken many M&A firms by surprise because the majority of them never had to consider acquiring the capabilities or skills required to effectively handle this kind of transaction. In the past, the market’s lack of significance and a more strictly national mindset prevented the vast majority of small and mid-sized companies from considering cross border intermediation as an option which left M&A firms inexperienced in this field. This same reason also prevented the development of any extensive academic works on the subject.

Due to the complicated nature of cross border M&A, the vast majority of cross border actions have unsuccessful results. Cross border intermediation has many more levels of complexity to it then regular intermediation seeing as corporate governance, the power of the average employee, company regulations, political factors customer expectations, and countries’ culture are all crucial factors that could spoil the transaction. However, with the weak dollar in the U.S. and soft economies in a number of countries around the world, we are seeing more cross-border bargain hunting as top companies seek to expand their global footprint and become more agile at creating high-performing businesses and cultures across national boundaries.

Even mergers of companies with headquarters in the same country are very much of this type (cross-border Mergers). After all, when Boeing acquires McDonnell Douglas, the two American companies must integrate operations in dozens of countries around the world. This is just as true for other supposedly “single country” mergers, such as the $27 billion dollar merger of Swiss drug makers Sandoz and Ciba-Geigy (now Novartis).