In contrast with the record-breaking 2015, global M&A activity in 2016 started out slowly with lagging activity during the first three quarters of the year. Although Q4 is still underway, 2016 seems to end with a particularly strong Q4 compared to the rest of the year (not only at a global level, but also locally in the Dutch market). Nevertheless, Q4 is unlikely to be able to reverse the downturn in M&A activity experienced during the first quarters of 2016. For 2017, we expect this volatility to continue, but in view of 2016’s strong Q4, Q1 of 2017 looks promising. In this article, we highlight some trends and developments that we expect will (continue to) impact global worldwide M&A activity as a whole.

Political and economic uncertainty

Obviously, 2016 has been a turbulent year in terms of political and economic uncertainty. Western Europe IPO markets (including UK) have been very patchy with some deals getting done, but many being put on hold, with Brexit concerns and following the US election. However, notwithstanding Brexit, the decrease in the value of sterling has made the UK an increasingly attractive for international investors. The UK is currently one of the most attractive global inbound target market behind the U.S., overtaking Switzerland in Q3 2016.

The Western-European mainland is also likely to see its fair share of political uncertainty in 2017, with elections not only coming up in the Netherlands but also in France and Germany (and potentially Italy), as well as the expected start of Brexit negotiations (after triggering the formal exit mechanism for the withdrawal of the UK). These political and economic uncertainties are likely to affect the number of IPOs, but potentially also the deal activity in in the short and medium term.

Cash is king… but for how long?

Despite these uncertainties, 2016 also demonstrated that big-ticket deals continue to be pressed ahead. Some of the more remarkable deals include Bayer’s acquisition of Monsanto, being the biggest cash-only takeover in history at $66 billion, and – with a local flavour – the acquisition of NXP by Qualcomm for $47 billion (also largely financed with cash). Cash is king, so it seems, despite debt continuing to remain cheap. Coupled with large off-shore cash reserves, it seems that this has had an impact on deal consideration. Also, the European Central Bank has recently announced to extend its policy of quantitative easing with 9 months until December 2017, although it decided to cut bond purchases from EUR 80 billion to EUR 60 billion per month.

China: are the trees reaching the sky yet?

Chinese outbound investment has been a key trend in global M&A activity over 2016 – especially for investments out of the APAC region which are at an all-time high. The reason for Chinese companies to increasingly decide investing overseas is not only fuelled by a desire to develop a more global footprint, but also has to do with the domestic economy in China showing signs of a slowdown. That slowdown reflects investor worries about slower growth in China, the bubble building up in China’s overheated property market. Also, because Chinese investors continue to pursue an increasingly diverse range of assets in markets across the world, these investments go hand-in-hand with growing sensitivity in some jurisdictions over national security.

Technology

The technology sector has been one of the most active for M&A in 2016, underpinned by the rise of disruptive digital technology. The share of tech deals as a percentage of total deals has steadily increased since 2008, both globally as well as in Europe. Despite geopolitical uncertainty and equity market volatility, global dealmakers (tech, non-tech, and private equity) recognise that the tech sector is rapidly evolving and remains alive to emerging opportunities. Targets involved in security, the internet of things, the sharing economy, smart mobility and fintech are particularly attractive; we expect this to remain the case throughout 2017.

About the authors:

schermafbeelding-2016-12-12-om-16-42-48Saskia Blokland is een corporate partner bij Norton Rose Fulbright in Amsterdam. Saskia adviseert haar cliënten op het gebied van ondernemingsrecht. Heeft u vragen of bovenstaand M&A artikel? Bel of mail Saskia gerust. Tel: +31 20 4629 412 Mobiel: +31 6 1090 9828 Email: saskia.blokland@nortonrosefulbright.com

 

 

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Rogier de Haan is een corporate lawyer (advocaat) bij Norton Rose Fulbright in Amsterdam.