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Are Mergers & Acquisitions Always Good For Investors?

There’s nothing which graces the headlines and makes business news more exciting than mergers and acquisition (M&A) announcements.

With the desire to grow larger and get better, more and more companies are on an acquisition spree to turbo-charge their growth and to create more “shareholder value”. Investors who are on the receiving end of such announcements from the companies within their portfolio should carefully scrutinise the deals as M&A do not always turn out well. The devil, as they say, is in the details and this article attempts to explain the good and the bad when it comes to M&A.

The Lowdown On M&A

Companies undertake M&A for a variety of reasons, from the need to integrate a new product line or lines (buying instead of building one shortens the process), acquiring a new complementary set of customers, diversifying away from their core business or simply adding on to their existing capabilities. Whatever the reasons, investors should look at several aspects to ascertain if the transactions are good or bad.

  1. Price paid and valuation – What was the total amount of money paid for the deal? Did the company over-pay or are they getting a good deal? It’s important to drill down into the valuation paid and not just look at the headline number. For example, if the acquisition costs $100 million and the acquired company generates $10 million in net profit each year, this means the acquisition was made at 10x earnings, which is considered cheap. The rule of thumb is anything above 15x earnings would be considered “expensive”, though of course, this varies according to the industry.
  2. Supposed benefits – Look at what management communicates to shareholders regarding the benefits of the M&A. Does it result in better earnings visibility, wider customer base or product portfolio or some other tangible benefit? Be careful of general terms such as “synergies” which do not provide specific details on how the M&A will benefit the acquirer.
  3. Funding for the acquisition – How is the acquisition funded? Using the company’s internal resources and based off free cash flow generation, or via a higher level of borrowings? This is important as it demonstrates if management may be biting off more than they can chew. The infamous leveraged buy-outs in the late 1990s, where companies borrowed aggressively to fund expensive acquisitions, turned out to be a grave mistake as many of these M&A subsequently fared poorly.

Assessing And Monitoring M&A

As investors, I believe we should continue to monitor and assess if the M&A performed well over time, to decide on whether the company had made a good or poor acquisition. Study the disclosures made of the new division or acquisition (assuming the company discloses such numbers) to determine if it is performing well or poorly. The time horizon should be anything from one year to three years, so this can be a long-drawn process.

The Foolish Bottom Line

M&A can be complex, and it’s not easy for the investor to assess if an M&A is good or bad unless he monitors it. A company may also have a track record of successful M&A which an investor can rely on for psychological comfort. The bottom line is that M&As are not always beneficial, and the investor should be aware of this.

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The information provided is for general information purposes only and is not intended to be personalised investment or financial advice.