Press release

11 Nov 2020 London, GB

COVID-19 impact on M&A more severe than global financial crisis, but many Asia-Pacific countries rebounding faster

HONG KONG, 11 NOVEMBER 2020. EY today releases new research on mergers and acquisitions (M&A) activity in Asia-Pacific for the third quarter of 2020 (3Q20).

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  • Asia-Pacific has demonstrated resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic with deal volumes falling 8% year-on-year, compared to double digits in US, UK and other markets
  • Asia-Pacific sees highest third quarter in 2020, driven by domestic combinations and technology deals
  • Early movers that made bold investment strategy decisions could boost long-term returns as seen after the global financial crisis (GFC)

EY today releases new research on mergers and acquisitions (M&A) activity in Asia-Pacific for the third quarter of 2020 (3Q20). The research indicates that the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic led to a faster decline in M&A activity across Asia-Pacific countries and globally during 3Q20 than during the GFC of 2007-2008.

Global M&A volume fell by almost a quarter (23%) in the first half of 2020, with a 20% drop during 1Q20 in Asia-Pacific – two years ahead of the decline recorded during the GFC. However, divergences in the M&A recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic are emerging between Asia-Pacific and other parts of the world. For the first nine months of 2020, Asia-Pacific deal volume dropped by 8% year-on-year (y-o-y), while the decline in deal volume has been far more acute in the Americas (20% lower y-o-y) and EMEIA (15% lower y-o-y).

M&A activity is rebounding more quickly for some countries and regions in Asia-Pacific than for others. For example, China’s deal volume rose to the 2019 monthly average level in March and April 2020 and has remained relatively steady for the second half of 2020.

Early movers and bold decision-makers achieve better results

Reviewing transactions in the immediate period following the GFC, EY research finds that companies that were early movers and made bold choices on portfolio-transforming acquisitions saw a 26% increase in total shareholder return over the following decade, compared to those that did not.

Furthermore, companies that proactively reshaped their portfolios by taking steps to divest assets achieved 24% higher returns over the same period. The research also shows that companies that actively invested in their businesses through elevated capex and R&D following the GFC witnessed two-three times higher returns over those that took a more cautious approach.

Yew-Poh Mak, EY Asia-Pacific Strategy and Transactions Leader, says:

“As lessons from the post-financial crisis period show, early and bold choices on portfolio-transforming investments, particularly acquisitions and divestments, can help reframe the future of a whole organization and position it for growth beyond the crisis. Dealmakers have demonstrated the ability to close transactions despite travel restrictions in Asia-Pacific. As borders gradually re-open, we anticipate increased transaction volumes in the coming quarters both domestic and cross borders.”

Industry and corporate reorganization driving up Asia-Pacific M&A value and volume

Asia-Pacific countries and regions have experienced the impact of the pandemic in different stages. While China’s M&A activity has already returned to pre-COVID-19 levels, Australia’s monthly deal volume has only begun to gradually recover in the most recent quarter.

Japan’s M&A activity was relatively unaffected in 1Q20 compared with most other regions in Asia-Pacific, but it has since begun to slow as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic-related restrictions and the resulting impact on business. While outbound activity has declined and many deals have been put on hold due to travel restrictions, mega domestic deals have driven Japan’s domestic M&A value to a 15-year high in 3Q20.

Overall, Asia-Pacific saw high value deals reach US$392b in 3Q20, the highest third quarter on record – driven by domestic combinations and technology deals. In particular, mega deals [i.e. deals over US$10 billion] in China and Japan increased deal value in 3Q20, with a Chinese oil and gas consolidation representing the largest deal globally to date in 2020. A telecommunications giant in Japan is also taking private its mobile unit business, which could lead to the largest-ever tender offer for a Japanese firm.

Positive outlook in Asia-Pacific 

M&A activity in many sectors across Asia-Pacific has been resilient during the pandemic. Sectors that have experienced growth in deal activity in the first nine months of 2020 (y-o-y) include telecommunications (19%), life sciences (9%) and power and utilities (9%). The most active sectors in terms of M&A deal volume within Asia-Pacific continue to be technology, advanced manufacturing and consumer. Notably, technology was one of the first sectors to rebound in Asia-Pacific, with deal volume returning to 2019 levels, and it continues to drive M&A as part of the transformation agenda across industries.

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About the research   

The research comes from the EY service line Strategy and Transactions (SaT), which brings together leading-class strategy capabilities together with deep transaction, corporate finance and tax experience. In Asia-Pacific, SaT comprises of ~5,600 strategy and corporate finance professionals dedicated to serving clients across Japan, South Korea, Greater China, Asean and Oceania.