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Learning to thrive in a low-growth and volatile environment, companies are taking a pragmatic view, balancing risk and returns.

The business world is taking a new shape — leading businesses are responding by reshaping for the future.

Our latest Capital Confidence Barometer clearly shows the many complex challenges on today’s boardroom agenda. For leading global corporates, striking a balance between risk and reward has rarely been so difficult. Companies are grappling with geopolitical instability, a fragile global economic recovery and seismic shifts in “megatrends” such as structural changes in the workforce and digital transformation — all at a time of unprecedented shareholder activism.

Our survey reveals:

Key findings

60% consider cost reduction their primary focus

27% expect to pursue deals greater than US$500m in size

31% plan to pursue an acquisition

29% expect deal pipelines to increase

60% see the global economy improving — resilient confidence in the face of shocks

88% view credit availability as stable or improving

65% have confidence in corporate earnings — the highest level in five years

Navigating complexities with parallel priorities

Our respondents report resilient confidence in the global economy, despite recent geopolitical shocks, low growth in mature markets and slowing growth in BRIC territories. Confidence in credit availability is at its highest in the Barometer’s five-year history, cash is in ready supply and valuation gaps are narrowing.

In the past, all of this would have been a recipe for a wave of M&A. Today, however, executives are navigating complexity with parallel priorities. Management teams look to achieve value today with a renewed focus on cost management and returning rewards to increasingly active shareholders.

At the same time, some executives are also seeking value creation and top-line revenue through innovative organic growth and measured dealmaking.

Time for transformational M&A

As a result, larger, more transformational M&A is on the strategic growth agenda. Pipelines point to only modest increases in deal activity as low volume becomes the hallmark of a low-growth environment. Increased deal values rather than volumes will likely be making headlines in the coming year. After a prolonged financial crisis and M&A market malaise, companies and boards are opting for quality rather than quantity.

Photo of Pip McCrostie, EY Global Vice Chair, Transaction Advisory Services

The business world is taking a new shape, one affected by the tapering of fiscal stimulus, shareholder activists, a rebalancing of investment priorities across emerging and mature markets and a relentless drive for innovation across all sectors.

With a focus on cost management, higher risk organic growth and — in some cases — large, strategic and transformational deals, leading businesses are responding by reshaping for the future.

—Pip McCrostie, Global Vice Chair, Transaction Advisory Services