LONDON – Cash-rich companies around the world are still reluctant to make big acquisitions after four years of low corporate activity as the global economic recovery remains tentative, according to a survey published Monday.
The number of global mergers and acquisitions was decimated when the credit crunch started in the summer of 2007, and never quite recovered. As well as trying to cope with a lack of bank lending, companies have had to see through the deepest global recession since World War II as well as acute government spending cuts in Europe.
The uncertainty made companies hoard capital over the past few years. But while they are now rich in cash, they are also wary of spending.
According to consulting firm Ernst & Young, M&A is unlikely to pick up much in the next few months in spite of a more favorable deal-making environment and less turmoil in the debt markets in the 17-country eurozone.
In a survey of 1,500 senior executives in 50 countries, Ernst & Young found that 31 percent of those surveyed expected to pursue an acquisition over the next 12 months, down from 41 percent last October. It said concerns over global growth continue to dominate sentiment despite some recent improvement in economic indicators, particularly out of the U.S.
Caution rather than confidence is driving global M&A sentiment, said Pip McCrostie, global head of transactions at Ernst & Young. With better access to credit and large cash piles, companies have the means and the methods to do deals but their motivation is tempered by concerns over the strength and permanence of the global economic recovery.
Over recent months, conditions in financial markets have improved compared with the last few months of 2011, when Europes debt crisis combined with worries over the U.S. economic outlook to knock confidence.
Recent figures from Mergermarket, a close observer of M&A deals, found that the value of deals in the first quarter of 2012 totaled $181.6 billion, 17.5 percent lower than the same period the previous year. The first quarter figure was heavily influenced by the $53.5 billion offer of mining company Xstrata PLC by commodities trading house Glencore International PLC. That deal was five times the value of the next highest.
While the U.S. economic news has, on the whole, been better than expected and growth expectations have been revised up, Europes debt crisis has eased somewhat this year.