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Will M&A rebound soon?

Key takeaways

  • M&A activity continues to lag behind 2021's record pace.
  • Interest rates at multidecade highs continue to make financing deals more expensive.
  • Investors in companies involved in M&A deals have some key things to think about.

After a record setting year in 2021, M&A activity plunged last year (in terms of deal value) and 2023's pace is even slower than 2022 (see Number and value of M&A deals globally chart).1

Number and value of M&A deals globally

The data in the chart is described in the text.
Source: FactSet, as of September 6, 2023. 2023 data is YTD and will be higher by year end.

A story similar to 2022 is playing out: High rates have made dealmaking significantly more expensive compared with previous years. That, plus a few other factors, are weighing on M&A activity, and are expected to continue to do so for the remainder of the year.

Here's what has been happening in the M&A landscape thus far this year.

M&A activity

The level of M&A activity can be cyclical, tending to be somewhat correlated to the economic environment—factors like GDP growth, corporate earnings growth, interest rates, tax policy, and the regulatory environment. If investors expect rates to start to come down in 2024 and economic conditions improve, some see M&A activity bouncing back in 2024. And despite the slowdown, several big deals have been closed this year. The 10 largest completed deals year to date are:1

  • Black Spade's $24 billion acquisition of VinFast Auto
  • Extra Space Storage's $16 billion acquisition of Life Storage
  • CVS Health's $10 billion acquisition of Oak Street Health
  • Silver Lake's $10 billion acquisition of Qualtrics
  • Merck's $9 billion acquisition of Prometheus Biosciences
  • Apollo's $8 billion acquisition of Univar Solutions
  • Chevron's $8 billion acquisition of PDC Energy
  • Xylem's $7 billion acquisition of Evoqua Water
  • Washington Football's $6 billion acquisition of Pro-Football
  • Astella's $5 billion acquisition of Iveric Bio

M&A performance

So who benefits from M&A? While past performance is not a guarantee of future results, several historical studies have shown that owning stocks of takeover targets (prior to a deal announcement) has generally been lucrative 1 and 3 years after a deal announcement, on average.2 That has not typically been the case for shareholders of acquiring firms.

One meta-analysis2 of M&A trends found that these deals have tended to benefit the target company's shareholders significantly in the short run (less than 1 year). For the company being acquired, the final acquisition price has historically been a 30% premium above the stock's pre-announcement price, on average. On the other hand, the acquirer's stock price has historically declined 1% to 3%, on average, 3 years after the deal's announcement. Obviously, the range of returns can vary widely on a deal-by-deal basis.

Another study found that acquiring companies experienced a 4.3% absolute price decline, on average, in the 3 years after an acquisition, with 61% of these companies underperforming industry competitors.3 These studies have suggested that many underperforming acquiring firms have been unable to capture synergies that were expected prior to the deal's announcement.

It goes without saying that each M&A transaction is unique, subsequent stock performance of the acquirer and target could differ (perhaps significantly) from the historical averages of similar M&A deals, and each deal should be evaluated on its own merit. With that said, investors who own shares of either the acquiring or target company should still be prepared for their stock prices to become potentially volatile after a deal is announced.

One reason for a potential increase in volatility is the additional risks created by the deal—including uncertainty about where the stock price will end up if the deal closes, uncertainty about whether regulators will block the deal, or the risk that the target company's shareholders will reject the proposal.

Cash vs. stock

As it relates to the form of M&A financing, another meta-study found that, on average, both the acquirer and the target have historically experienced better stock performance for all-cash deals versus all-share deals over the short run (e.g., under 3 years).4

Acquirer's stock: What to look for

If you own the stock of a company that has offered to buy another company, you may want to do some research to determine if the combined company still supports your reasons for owning the stock. Data from various studies suggests that there are 4 primary characteristics of M&A deals that tend to create value for shareholders (i.e., earnings growth that translates into stock price appreciation) of the acquiring company over the long run:2

  • Acquirer's earnings and share price growth rate are above their industry average for the 3 years preceding an acquisition. You can find this information on on a company's snapshot page.
  • The premium paid by the acquirer is relatively low versus comparable deals. You may be able to find the premium paid for comparable deals via a financial data provider, Fidelity's news tab search function, or an internet search.
  • The number of bidding companies is "low." Being the lone bidder is optimal for the acquirer's shareholders, with one obvious reason being avoiding a bidding war that might drive up the acquisition price.
  • The market's initial reaction is positive. Some studies suggest this can be measured by the acquirer's stock price not closing lower in the 10 trading days after the deal is announced.2

All else equal, acquiring companies (and their associated acquisition processes) that exhibit these 4 traits have historically outperformed the stocks of acquirers that didn't exhibit these traits, on average. Additionally, when a proposal is announced, there are several questions you might consider to help evaluate it. These include:

  • Will the deal create synergies (i.e., will the company be worth more after the combination, perhaps due to cost reductions or revenue enhancements)?
  • Will the deal help the company achieve growth?
  • Will the deal help the company gain market share and/or pricing power?
  • Will the deal help the company access unique capabilities and resources?
  • Did the acquirer pay fair value for the target business?

It can be difficult for many investors to evaluate some or all of these factors. If you want help navigating the M&A waters, you may want to consider professionally managed M&A investment products or services. Professional managers have the research capability necessary to evaluate the complexity of these types of deals, and the potential impact on the stocks of the acquirer and/or the target.

If you are looking to do this research on your own, there are tools and resources—including company filings, research reports, and analyst opinions—that can help you evaluate an M&A deal. Much of this research can be found in the Stock Research Center on

Target stockholders: What to look for

If you are a shareholder of a publicly traded company that is being targeted for an acquisition in the US, for example, it's important to know that state laws and stock exchange regulations mandate the right to vote on a takeover offer.

In addition to voting on the proposed deal, shareholders of the target company can either continue to hold the stock (up until or all the way through the combined entity post-merger) or decide to sell at some post-announcement price. Recall that, based on historical data, the target company's stock price is likely to have increased from the pre-announcement price. Selling your shares can occur via an auction, tender process, or on the market. Any decision you make should be based on careful analysis, and should align with your specific investment objectives, risk tolerance, and tax situation.

If the deal is completed, the stock price will typically move toward the agreed upon purchase price by the closing date. However, if the deal falls through, the stock could decline—potentially by a large amount, and perhaps even below the pre-announcement price level (more on this later).

Acquiring firm voting rights

While target company shareholders can vote on a proposed M&A deal, this same right does not always exist for the shareholders of acquiring firms. The SEC and major stock exchanges do not require shareholder approval by the acquiring firm, except when, to help finance the deal, new shares are issued in the amount of 20% or more of the common shares outstanding before issuance. In that case, the acquirer must call for a special meeting and obtain shareholder approval. Information for the deal is obtained in the proxy statement.

Targeting M&A

In addition to evaluating individual stocks, there are professionally managed funds, known as merger arbitrage funds, which specifically target M&A deals after they are announced. The IQ Merger Arbitrage ETF (), AltShares Merger Arbitrage ETF (), and First Trust Merger Arbitrage ETF () are the largest US-traded ETFs of this kind by net asset value.5

Merger arbitrage funds depend heavily on the number of deals available to invest in at a given point in time; many of these funds have relatively high expense ratios, and their performance can be volatile. Among the primary risks of these types of funds is the potential for an announced deal not closing that the fund has invested in.

Despite the risks, merger arbitrage funds have generally grown in size in recent years, based on assets under management. Yet you need to carefully consider the risks of these funds, and if they align with your strategy.

Moreover, FINRA recommends exercising caution in regard to M&A and investing. As noted on FINRA's website, most M&A deals provided little shareholder value, according to research. For all the excitement and headlines surrounding M&A announcements, more often than not M&A deals don't serve acquiring companies as well as executives and shareholders would hope.

Merger fund activities and risks

Short positions pose a risk because they lose value as a security's price increases; therefore, the loss on a short sale is theoretically unlimited. The fund can invest in securities that may have a leveraging effect (such as derivatives and forward-settling securities) that may increase market exposure, magnify investment risks, and cause losses to be realized more quickly. Stock markets are volatile and can decline significantly in response to adverse issuer, political, regulatory, market, economic, or other developments. These risks may be magnified in foreign markets.

M&A investing implications

An M&A announcement is one example of an event that can trigger a reevaluation of your investments. If your strategy involves seeking out high-quality companies trading at attractive valuations, you may end up owning the types of investments that M&A deals tend to involve. The more information you have, the more likely you may be able to manage the potential effect of an M&A deal on your investments.

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Before investing in any mutual fund or exchange-traded fund, you should consider its investment objectives, risks, charges, and expenses. Contact Fidelity for a prospectus, an offering circular, or, if available, a summary prospectus containing this information. Read it carefully. Alternative funds seek to accomplish the fund's objectives through non-traditional investment strategies that offer exposure beyond traditional stocks, bonds, and cash. Alternative funds may not perform as intended in various market conditions or market scenarios. There can be no assurance that an alternative fund's stated objectives will be met. ETFs are subject to market fluctuation and the risks of their underlying investments. ETFs are subject to management fees and other expenses. Unlike mutual funds, ETF shares are bought and sold at market price, which may be higher or lower than their NAV, and are not individually redeemed from the fund. 1. Source: FactSet, as of September 6, 2023. 2. Sources: J. Fred Weston and Samuel C. Weaver, Mergers & Acquisitions, CFA Institute. 3. Sources: T. Koller, M. Goedhart, and D. Wessels, Valuation: Measuring and Managing the Value of Companies, 4th ed., CFA Institute. 4. Sources: Robert F. Bruner, Deals from Hell: M&A Lessons That Rise Above the Ashes, CFA Institute. 5. Source: ETF Database, Fidelity, as of September 28, 2022.

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