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Large global M&A deals off to slow start in 2023

Big-ticket M&A activity is off to a slow start in 2023 as the regulatory environment makes executing large deals more challenging.

No global deals announced in January had a transaction value that reached $10 billion. This marked the fourth calendar month since the start of 2022 that ended without an M&A deal surpassing that threshold, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence data.

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However, two unsolicited offers in February provided signs that the thaw is starting to break. Denver-based Newmont Corp., a gold mining company, made an $18.33 billion offer to Australia-based Newcrest Mining Ltd. Also, in a potential tie-up between U.S.-based self-storage real estate investment trusts, Public Storage made a $14.48 billion bid to purchase Life Storage Inc.

The deals would serve as a welcome sign for investment bankers who work on large transactions. At the end of January, 19 global deals announced since 2018 with a value greater than $10 billion were pending after five deals of that size announced in 2022 were terminated. Some of the pending deals in the pipeline — such as Microsoft Corp.'s $68.99 billion agreement to purchase Activision Blizzard Inc. — are facing regulatory scrutiny.

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In the U.S., the Biden administration has made more robust antitrust reviews a priority, and regulators in other parts of the world have done the same. But just because regulators scrutinize a deal, that does not mean it will get nixed, according to Greenhill & Co. Inc. Chairman and CEO Scott Bok.

"Regulators are not succeeding and blocking a lot of deals," Bok said during a Feb. 1 earnings conference call. "But they certainly, I think, around the world have been a little bit slower to sort of approve deals and let them flow through."

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A longer approval time can make a transaction more costly and delay the benefits the companies can realize by combining forces. Executives who are considering M&A are factoring in the regulatory pushback they might receive on a potential combination, Evercore Inc. Chairman and CEO John Weinberg said during a Feb. 1 earnings conference call.

"People are watching really carefully on antitrust," Weinberg said on the call.

Even with that concern, Weinberg said companies are still contemplating pursuing large deals. He noted that he regularly speaks with Evercore investment bankers who say they have clients who are considering sizable transactions.

"I've seen that there are some really big deals that are being seriously considered and I could see them going," Weinberg said.