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S&P Global-IHS Markit merger, 2020's largest deal, shows value of financial data

S&P Global Inc. is staking $44 billion on its future in what analysts say is an area of immense growth in the financial industry: data.

The 160-year-old financial firm with business lines in debt ratings, stock benchmarks, indices and financial data and research plans to merge with IHS Markit Ltd. in an all-stock deal that carries a transaction value of $44.50 billion. With IHS Markit, S&P Global could solidify its place as a leading global data provider at a time when traders, investors and executives are clamoring for as much information as possible about markets and companies.

"Information is king," said Andy Nybo, a director at TP ICAP PLC-owned Burton-Taylor International Consulting, in an interview. "The value of market data is just becoming more and more evident."

Global financial services heavyweights like S&P Global, London Stock Exchange Group PLC and Intercontinental Exchange Inc. have been wading further into the lucrative business of financial data for several years, with subscriptions to their data platforms proving a steadier source of revenue than businesses like rating a company's debt issuance or collecting transaction fees on a stock trade.

S&P Global's announced merger is only the latest in a string of recent deals struck in the financial data space, Nybo said.

More than a year ago, LSE reached a deal to acquire the world's second-largest financial data provider, Refinitiv US Holdings Inc. The deal is now expected to close in the first quarter of 2021, after LSE sold off Borsa Italiana SpA to satisfy European regulators concerned about the antitrust implications of the Refinitiv deal. Meanwhile, the New York Stock Exchange's parent company, ICE, bought mortgage data and software provider Ellie Mae Inc. to round out its suite of offerings in the U.S. mortgage market. In a Nov. 30 note, Piper Sandler analyst Richard Repetto wrote that S&P Global's deal with IHS Markit is more evidence that data is "as important as ever" and that it validates ICE's efforts to acquire data providers.

And just a few weeks before S&P Global's deal for IHS Markit, the German exchange operator Deutsche Börse AG said it was acquiring U.S. proxy advisory firm Institutional Shareholder Services Inc. in a bid to become a premier environmental, social and governance data provider.

New York-based S&P Global, which is the parent company of S&P Global Market Intelligence, has been carving out its place in the financial data business for much of the last decade. In 2015, its predecessor company McGraw Hill Financial acquired news, data and research provider SNL Financial LC for $2.23 billion. In the years since, S&P Global has done a handful of other deals to build its data offerings, such as its 2018 purchases of supply chain data provider Panjiva Inc. and artificial intelligence company Kensho Technologies Inc.

IHS Markit marks S&P Global's largest acquisition ever, as well as the biggest purchase across geographies based on transaction value in 2020, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence data.

Regulators are expected to take a close look at the deal, especially considering how European regulators have examined LSE's pending purchase of Refinitiv, Oppenheimer analyst Owen Lau said in an interview. S&P Global President and CEO Douglas Peterson, who will lead the combined company, responded to an analyst's question on the topic of regulatory scrutiny during a Nov. 30 deal call.

"Since we've been so well advised, we looked at this very carefully. We don't believe that there are any regulatory issues that can't be resolved if they do come up," Peterson said.

Formed by a 2016 merger, London-based IHS Markit operates in several of the same broad markets as S&P Global, such as research and data on the financial services and energy industries. But IHS Markit's fixed-income indices, transportation sector data and pricing and reference data on millions of corporate and sovereign bonds all would give S&P Global a footprint in less-developed or entirely new verticals.

The deal would cement S&P Global's spot as the third-largest global market data provider behind Bloomberg LP and Refinitiv, which each represented a respective 32.8% and 21.4% of the market in 2019, according to Burton-Taylor International Consulting. The pro forma combination of IHS Markit and S&P Global, already the third-largest provider on its own, would have accounted for about 7.9% of the market data industry's revenues in 2019.

With IHS Markit onboard, S&P Global would see a significant shift in its business mix. The company currently generates 47% of its revenue from its ratings business, through which it grades corporate and municipal debt issuances, according to a presentation about the deal. That business hinges on macroeconomic factors such as interest rates that sway how much debt companies and municipalities are taking on and that subsequently need to be rated, Lau said.

But post-merger, the biggest chunk of the company's $11.6 billion of pro forma revenues, 32%, will come from financial information and services, while ratings will account for about 30%, according to the deal presentation.

"Being an information company in the information age — that's pretty exciting. And to combine with an information company in the information age is even more compelling," IHS Markit Chairman and CEO Lance Uggla, who will stay on as a special adviser to S&P Global for a year after the deal closes, said on the deal call. "As the market comes to realize what we've done together, I think that will prove itself out."