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M&A market looks to a post-Brexit boost in September

Justin Tallis | AFP | Getty Images

Bankers returning from the beach may be dreaming of a pick-up in dealmaking activity come September, now that the uncertainty around the Brexit vote that dogged the start of the year has disappeared.

It's been a pretty quiet year for mergers and acquisitions (M&A) so far compared to last year. The value of deals announced in the U.K. so far this year is around half the $215 billion (including net debt) worth which had been announced by the same time in 2015, according to Thomson Reuters data.

"Last year was an aberration of sorts, and it would always have been very difficult to reach those heights again," Sriram Prakash, global lead of M&A Insight at Deloitte, told CNBC.

Last year's strong numbers were out-of-the-ordinary for a several reasons. The market for deals had picked up considerably after a long post-credit crisis lull. The kinds of companies being sought – telecoms, media and consumer goods businesses, rather than the manufacturing and industrial companies which are often the backbone of the M&A market – were different.

This year, the U.K. referendum on European Union membership was the giant mammoth in the room.

"Most dealmakers, bankers and corporates were waiting for that June date," Matthew Toole, director, Deals Intelligence at Thomson Reuters, told CNBC.

After the surprise leave vote, a snap poll by Deloitte of M&A partners and dealmakers across 24 countries around the world showed nearly a quarter (23 percent) see a potential increase in opportunity for M&A investments into the UK. The majority, (71 percent were still operating under a "wait-and-see" approach, with concerns about the clarity of terms of trade deals with the EU and other countries the factor which was putting most people off.

"The biggest shift has been Brexit. M&A is a long-term play and companies are taking a wait and see approach," Prakash said.

Of course, the U.K. has an increasing number of companies which aren't very reliant on the domestic economy – chipmaker ARM, which will be taken out by Japan's Softbank in a $32 billion deal later this year, is a prime example. These may become more attractive as sterling continues to be historically undervalued against the dollar and euro.

The emergence of China as a global player, and the attempts by Japanese companies to shore up overseas business as their national economy stagnates, have helped bolster this year's numbers.

"The big story is the China outbound story. There's still a little bit of uncertainty about how serious they are," Toole told CNBC.

The abandonment of a planned $14 billion takeout of Starwood hotels by China's Anbang Insurance was cited as a factor in this uncertainty.

A greater slice of the shrinking M&A revenues is now going to smaller boutique firms than the traditional powerhouses like Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan, which means rainmakers are having to compete even more fiercely for M&A business.

The macroeconomic landscape is one which should be febrile for deal-making, with companies able to borrow money relatively cheaply, and slow earnings growth at many existing businesses.

"Europe has very much been a buyers' market. European companies are still reasonably valued compared to the U.S.," Prakash said.