2011 was an interesting period for M&A. The first half of the year saw the bulk of activity, with total global deal volume of about $1.27 trillion, benefitting from a better credit outlook and accelerating economic recovery. The second half of 2011 slowed down for just $875 billion according to Bloomberg, with an overall y-o-y deal volume growth of about 9%. European debt worries and macroeconomic issues, like the natural disaster in Japan, were contributing impediments. Despite these hurdles, however, 2011 was a fairly strong year for M&A.
Where does this leave us for 2012? There is a lot to consider, but the overall outlook is for another robust year. The biggest challenge currently, and one that U.S. firms are monitoring closely, is the European debt crisis, which poses some systemic concerns for the coming year. European problems could become American problems if Europe falls into a recession. U.S. exports are not currently growing, and a European downturn could exacerbate this if demand for U.S. products drops. Higher oil prices are another factor which is holding the U.S. back from stronger GDP growth. Q4 2011 alone saw crude oil prices jump nearly 25% over the previous quarter. Turbulence in producing countries like Libya and increasing demand in China and other emerging markets are the culprits.
The American housing market is still in a slump. Mortgage rates are extremely low but potential buyers are wary of further drops in home value. There are still a lot of inexpensive homes on the market which means less new construction. One piece of good news here is that foreclosure saw a sharp decline last year. Unemployment is another headline issue for the U.S. economy. While joblessness seems to be improving at a modest rate, underemployment is actually increasing according to Gallup, showing that more people have given up looking for work or have taken substandard positions. Faltering job growth has been a persistent remnant of the fading recession. We are still experiencing unemployment over 8% after 10 consecutive quarters of GDP growth.
But don’t be put off by these difficulties. There is plenty to be enthusiastic about, and 2012 looks to be busy for M&A. To begin with, there is upwards of $500 billion in dry powder that is expiring soon, so financial sponsors should be chasing targets very aggressively. Lending markets are looking more attractive, as well, particularly for larger firms with lower risk profiles. Cash is available. 2011 also saw better U.S. real GDP growth rates with each passing quarter. Q4 ended with the fastest growth rate since early 2010. And consumer spending (one the chief drivers of our economy) jumped to 4.4% growth over 2.7% in Q3. This is the fastest pace in over five years. Manufacturing is picking up speed and U.S. economic recovery is accelerating. Prospects in the middle market are particularly promising, and this is where the action is. The lower middle market is most active. 79.5% of middle market deals in 2011 were under $100 million. Most of these deals are being done in cash. Total enterprise value to trailing 12 month EBITDA ratios are also on the rise in the middle market: averaging 7.6 in 2009, 8.6 in 2010, and 9.2 last year. Higher valuations are coming in the wake of higher corporate cash reserves, suppressed interest rates, and more M&A activity. The middle market is particularly active in the private equity segment, as well. In the first half of 2011, 75% of deals in PE were valued under $250 million. Deals under $500 million made up nearly 80% of deal flow for the year. Much of the deal-making here is in acquisitive growth (making up as much as 50% of PE acquisition in 2011). Business products and services was the most active industry segment for private equity, while the energy sector saw a drawdown, particularly in Q4.
Please feel free to review “M&A Outlook 2012”: http://www.slideshare.net/ennovance/ma-outlook-2012