3 minute read 15 Apr 2019
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US corporate leaders have navigated an evolving, disruptive decade of dealmaking

3 minute read 15 Apr 2019

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The US business community is more confident about mergers and acquisitions, and which risks and challenges are most important to their Capital Agenda.

Over 10 years, and 20 semiannual editions of the EY Global Capital Confidence Barometerwe have offered our share of pithy, catchy headlines. Here is a selection of our favorites from the US edition of the Barometer over the last decade, presented in chronological order, from early 2012 through late 2018.

US Capital Confidence Barometer headlines

A headline can’t tell you everything. But in aggregate, the story these US headlines tell nicely sums up how corporate confidence has progressed in the world’s biggest deal market. Across the 2010s, we have had a ringside seat for one of the most dramatic evolutions in business confidence, corporate strategy and market disruption that US boardrooms and C-suites have ever experienced.

  • When we launched the Barometer in 2009, in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis, the open question was whether businesses could find their footing, let alone acquire. “Balance” was indeed the initial goal, amid “cloudy” confidence.
  • The “inflection” point came sometime mid-decade, around 2013–14, as M&A began a material “return” and executives truly began reshaping — “staging” — their enterprises for sustained growth. Here in the US, we found corporates “ahead” of the rest of the world, leading an M&A comeback that eventually spread globally.
  • Once dealmaking began setting consistent records circa 2015–16, the emphasis changed to successful integration and portfolio management — a “discerning” approach.
  • As late-decade political turmoil affected macroeconomic confidence, US execs remained “above the fray,” keeping their eye on the more immediate challenges of digital disruption and changing customer expectations.
  • By decade’s end — after a long stretch of asset capture, prudent divestment and corporate repositioning — keeping portfolios and strategies “in sync” was vital.

In short, as we approach the 2020s, American business is bigger, more nimble and more forward-looking than it was a decade ago. We see it in the results of this Barometer, our next-to-last survey of the decade. Even as news headlines forecast economic pessimism, US executives are bullish on the prospects for the economy, the markets and deal metrics — and they have learned from the last decade that geopolitical and macroeconomic turmoil doesn’t change the rationale for keeping their businesses competitive. Even more than their global counterparts, US leaders see the development of new products and services (33%) and sector expansion (29%) as their strategic priorities. More than half (52%) are reviewing portfolios at least quarterly, some continuously.

Frequency of portfolio reviews


of US executives are reviewing portfolios at least quarterly, some continuously.

As for deal intentions — the centerpiece metric of the Barometer throughout its history — 52% of US businesses tell us they will pursue deals in the next 12 months. This response, basically flat from our last couple of surveys, is a kind of golden mean for the decade. It is neither as cautious as the responses we saw in the early ’10s, nor as overdriven as their intentions at the height of the mid-to-late-decade deal boom.

M&A intentions


of US businesses tell us they will pursue deals in the next 12 months.

To be sure, US boardrooms are ever watchful of the competitive pressures that drive deals: for assets, for talent, for innovation. But these demands are now a regular feature of the digital-era business landscape. As ever, deals are done because of strategic logic, not market demand alone.

What inspires me, 10 years into EY’s unique effort to take the temperature of the kinds of businesses we advise, is tracking this evolution in the business community’s mindset. Battle-scarred corporates became more battle-ready — not simply more confident, but smarter about which risks and challenges are most material to their Capital Agenda. We look forward to tracking the next decade of business dynamism and dealmaking success.


The EY Global Capital Confidence Barometer (pdf) gauges corporate confidence in the economic outlook and identifies boardroom trends and practices in the way companies manage their Capital Agendas.

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