2017 mergers and acquisitions were not only staggering in number, topping 50,000 worldwide, but historic in scale and often game-changing.
2017 marked the third consecutive year in which over 50,000 M&A deals were announced globally, according to Thomson Reuters, continuing a period Harvard Business Review described as the “great business remix.” Prior to 2017, only 2007-2008 saw this many deals annually. In just over a decade, more than 500,000 M&A deals have been struck. This reshuffling of the deck, set in motion by profound changes in technology and globalization, is expected to continue in 2018 and beyond.
Widespread shifts in asset ownership are impacting how companies do business, and how people live and work. They cut across healthcare, media, retail, transportation and industrials, driven to a great extent by technology, which itself is being remixed.
Among the most notable 2017 mergers was the $68 billion tie-up of pharmacy chain CVS and insurer Aetna. This could have a major impact on consumer healthcare delivery, though exactly how remains unclear. The deal is considered part of a larger asset reallocation wave initiated several years ago with pharmaceutical industry mergers, such as Sanofi and Genzyme in 2011, and Novartis and GSK in 2014. Hospitals and pharmacy retailers have also merged, though attempts by insurers have mostly been foiled.
M&A deals in the media industry have been a mix of successes and failures, with no lack of trying. AT&T was blocked from acquiring T-Mobile in 2011. The company’s more recent bid for a merger with Time Warner is on shaky ground. In 2017, Sprint and T-Mobile proved unable to seal a deal. Disney, however, has pulled off a $52 billion acquisition of 21st Century Fox’s entertainment assets.
While mergers and acquisitions in healthcare and media are being driven by newer threats, retail’s upending by ecommerce began in the early 2000s. In the last two years partnerships and mergers have been forged between the two rival camps, such as Amazon’s $13 billion acquisition of grocery retailer Whole Foods. In the other direction, bricks-and-mortars have acquired ecommerce firms, as in PetSmart’s $3.4 billion acquisition of Chewy.com, and Walmart’s 2016 acquisition of Jet.com.
In the technology sector, the merger trend crystallised with the closing of two major mergers, now being implemented: the $67 billion merger of Dell and data storage giant EMC, and the $26 billion merger of Microsoft and LinkedIn. Since 2015 Intel has acquired two large companies, computer vision firm Mobileye and Altera. Chipmaker Broadcom continues to fight for Qualcomm with a $105 billion bid.
The ripple effects of technology’s ongoing evolution are accelerating in transportation and industrials. This began with automotive and airline mergers in the late 1990s, which peaked again during the great recession. Horizontal mergers gradually gave way to partnerships, such as Star Alliance, among airlines. More earth-shattering changes are happening in automotive, as cars morph into computers, and tech firms and car makers vie to bring self-driving vehicles to market.
In chemicals, Dow and Dupont closed a $156 billion merger in 2017, and plan to break up the new conglomerate. This will include the creation of an agribusiness firm, which appears to have prompted Bayer’s $66 billion acquisition of Monsanto, expected to close in 2018, as well as ChemChina’s $43 billion acquisition of Syngenta, according to Harvard Business Review. The merger trend continues unabated, with ChemChina now looking to merge with SinoChem.