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Asia-Pacific beats Europe in M&A space, US dominates

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The Asia-Pacific region has overtaken Europe when it comes to mergers and acquisition, taking second place this year to North America in a study of M&A activity around the world.

Looking at deals worth more than $100 million, a study by the the financial management firm Towers Watson and Cass Business School found that European companies completed 106 deals in the year to date -- down from 128 last year and its lowest level since 2009. Meanwhile, the Asia-Pacific region closed 141 mergers and acquisitions.

North America continued to lead the field with 375 deals, accounting for nearly 60 percent of the global total, dropping from 422 in 2012.

(Read more: Do emotions get in the way of M&A deals?)

Economic and political uncertainty in Europe coupled with business strength in the Asia-Pacific region has caused this shift, Steve Allan, M&A practice leader at Towers Watson said in a press release.

"Two years ago, we were talking about the Asia-Pacific region starting to match Europe on M&A deal volumes, but now it has overtaken Europe by some margin. This is not because Asian companies are doing significantly more deals than before but seemingly because European acquirers have been holding back with a notable drop off in the fourth quarter of 2013," he said.

"However, during the past few months underlying political and economic uncertainty in Europe has diminished somewhat and growth forecasts are rosier meaning we could see many more European companies coming back in the M&A market in 2014."

Acquiring companies have marked their best stock performance since the financial crisis in 2008, the report says, outperforming companies not involved in M&A activities on the stock market by an average of 4.7 percentage points.

(Read more: How should Vodafone spend Verizon's $130 billion?)

But the number of "mega-deals", defined as acquisitions over $10 billion have dropped this year to date to just four from eight in 2012 – in spite of significant purchases as Berkshire Hathaway and 3G Capital Management's $23.3 billion deal with Heinz and Vodafone's $10.1 billion acquisition of Kabel Deutschland.

"The lack of mega-deals, coupled with a penchant for domestic targets and unhurried completion times paints a picture of the relatively cautious acquirer being the most successful. While many companies have cash to spend on acquisitions and there is an improving economic outlook for many countries, there appears to be a surprisingly restrained approach to M&A," Allan said.

The research is conducted from the point of view of the acquirer and considers the amount of money it paid for another company. It does not include deals where the acquired held less than 50 percent of the shares of the target when the deal was closed and it leaves out deals where the acquirer held most than 50 percent of the target shares prior to acquisition.

—By CNBC's Arjun Kharpal: Follow him on Twitter @ArjunKharpal

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