M&A Buyers Defy Uncertainty with Bullish Optimism for 2023
Global dealmakers achieved a third consecutive quarter of market outperformance in the first three months of 2023, according to research on completed deals from WTW’s Quarterly Deal Performance Monitor (QDPM). Based on share price performance, companies making M&A deals outclassed the wider market2 by +1.0 percentage points for acquisitions valued over $100 million between January and March 2023. This follows a positive performance of +5.2 percentage points in the previous quarter.
Run in partnership with the M&A Research Centre at The Bayes Business School, the data reveal that the marginally positive performance of Q1 2023 has been driven by Asia Pacific deal activity, where buyers outperformed their regional index by +13.8 percentage points. With 43 deals closed in Q1 2023, the region saw a 7% drop in volume compared with Q1 2022.
M&A deal activity also slowed significantly around the world, recording its lowest first quarter figures since 2015, with 157 deals completed worldwide in Q1 2023 compared with the corresponding quarter of 2022 (220 deals) and the final three months of 2022 (202 deals).
The slowdown in deal activity, however, has been far more pronounced in other regions. North American acquirers underperformed their index by –3.9 percentage points, with 79 deals closed between January and March, representing a sharp 32% decline in M&A activity compared with Q1 2022. Dealmakers from Europe, which continues to face more disruption and uncertainty, underperformed their index by –7.4 percentage points, with 30 deals completed in Q1 2023, down a substantial 39% in volume compared with Q1 2022.
David Dean, managing director, M&A Consulting, WTW, said: “The sharp decline in M&A deals completing this quarter is the inevitable hangover effect following an astounding year in 2021, compounded by the macroeconomic and geopolitical headwinds that bruised the market last year.
“At the same time, M&A markets are far from closed. The number of deals we’re seeing in the pipeline has not dropped at all, but many have made slower progress toward completion, or have paused, as buyers adopt a ‘wait and see’ approach. Dealmakers remain fairly bullish and believe M&A activity will increase in the second half of 2023 as markets stabilize and interest rates level.”
The need to adopt new technologies and talent, reach new markets and reinvent supply chains to build resilience has seen cross-sector deals reach their highest level since the WTW M&A study began in 2008.
The WTW data also show the median time to close deals in Q1 2023 has been the slowest since 2008, with 71% of all deals now taking at least 70 days to complete, compared with 53% less than 18 months ago. This trend is directly linked to the rise in cross-sector acquisitions, which typically require more time to evaluate and assess before closing, as well as the wider need for robust due diligence from both a performance and risk management perspective.
Dean said: “There are tremendous opportunities to explore for acquiring companies, especially corporates and PE [private equity] funds with high levels of capital. Some sectors that have been resilient or benefitted from the pandemic, such as technology or healthcare, may continue to see strong demand. The banking industry is also expected to see significant consolidation, while the technology, media and telecom sector has never been hotter.
“For buyers pursuing deals in the current uncertain economic climate, it will be more important than ever to conduct disciplined due diligence and dive deeper into potential weaknesses in a target. Retaining and integrating new employees after a deal closes will also be critical for the acquisition to deliver value, especially if the objective is to boost talent by acqui-hiring. This means well-crafted retention incentives must be a top priority, especially in today’s tight labor market.”
WTW QDPM methodology
All analysis is conducted from the perspective of the acquirer.
Share-price performance within the quarterly study is measured as a percentage change in share price from six months prior to the announcement date to the end of the quarter.
All deals where the acquirer owned less than 50% of the shares of the target after the acquisition were removed; hence, no minority purchases have been considered. All deals where the acquirer held more than 50% of target shares prior to the acquisition have been removed; hence, no remaining purchases have been considered.
Only completed M&A deals with a value of at least $100 million that meet the study criteria are included in this research.
Deal data are sourced from Refinitiv.
About WTW M&A
WTW’s M&A practice combines our expertise in risk and human capital to offer a full range of M&A services and solutions covering all stages of the M&A process. We have particular expertise in the areas of planning, due diligence, risk transfer and post-transaction integration, areas that define the success of any transaction.
AI Leaders Urge Labs to Halt Training Models More Powerful Than ChatGPT-4
Artificial intelligence experts and industry leaders, including Elon Musk, University of California Berkeley computer science professor Stuart Russell and Apple Inc. co-founder Steve Wozniak, are calling on developers to hit the pause button on training powerful AI models.
More than 1,100 people in the industry signed a petition calling for a six-month break from training artificial intelligence systems more powerful than the latest iteration behind OpenAI’s ChatGPT, in order to allow for the development of shared safety protocols.
“Recent months have seen AI labs locked in an out-of-control race to develop and deploy ever more powerful digital minds that no one – not even their creators – can understand, predict, or reliably control,” said an open letter published on the Future of Life Institute website. “Powerful AI systems should be developed only once we are confident that their effects will be positive and their risks will be manageable.”
The call comes after the launch of a series of AI projects in the last several months that convincingly perform human tasks such as writing emails and creating art. Microsoft Corp.-backed OpenAI released its GPT-4 this month, a major upgrade of its AI-powered chatbot, capable of telling jokes and passing tests like the bar exam.
It also highlights ongoing tensions between Musk and OpenAI. The nonprofit research lab was founded in 2015 with Musk as co-chair along with Sam Altman, who is also OpenAI’s chief executive officer. At the time, OpenAI’s goal was to “advance digital intelligence in the way that is most likely to benefit humanity as a whole, unconstrained by a need to generate financial return.”
Musk, who runs multiple companies including Tesla Inc., left OpenAI’s board in 2018. He has criticized the organization, which created a for-profit arm in 2019, saying it has become a “closed source, maximum-profit company effectively controlled by Microsoft,” and that it has “strayed very far from the path of virtue.” Musk has also been looking into creating a rival research lab, according to The Information. Meanwhile, in a recent podcast with tech journalist Kara Swisher, Altman said Musk is a “jerk” while noting he believes Musk is “feeling very stressed about what the future’s going to look like for humanity.”
Altman — whose name appeared on the list of signatories Tuesday night — didn’t sign the petition, said OpenAI spokesperson Hannah Wong. “Also I think it’s important to point out that we spent more than six months — after GPT-4 finished training — on the safety and alignment of the model,” Wong said.
Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Microsoft are among the companies using artificial intelligence to enhance their search engines, while Morgan Stanley has been using GPT-4 to create a chatbot for its wealth advisers.
Developers should work with policymakers to create new AI governance systems and oversight bodies, according to the letter. It called on governments to intervene in the development of AI systems if major players don’t imminently agree to a public, verifiable pause.
“AI research and development should be refocused on making today’s powerful, state-of-the-art systems more accurate, safe, interpretable, transparent, robust, aligned, trustworthy and loyal,” it said.
Yoshua Bengio, the founder and scientific director of Canadian AI research institute Mila, signed the petition, according to a statement from the institute. Emad Mostaque, founder and CEO of Stability AI, also said he signed it.
“We have seen the amazing capabilities of GPT-4 and other massive models. Those making these have themselves said they could be an existential threat to society and even humanity, with no plan to totally mitigate these risks,” Mostaque said. “It is time to put commercial priorities to the side and take a pause for the good of everyone to assess rather than race to an uncertain future.”
The Future of Life Institute is a nonprofit that seeks to mitigate risks associated with powerful technologies and counts the Musk Foundation as its biggest contributor.
“All of the top signatories on the list have been independently verified,” said Anthony Aguirre, a spokesperson for the institute. “Doing so for the whole list exceeds our capacity.”
A spokesperson for the Center for Humane Technology, whose executive director, Tristan Harris, signed the letter, said steps are being taken to prevent fake signatures. New signatories are now requiring human review before going up on the site, and all high-profile signatories listed have been vetted by direct communication, the spokesperson said in an email.
California’s Winter Storms Bring Billions in Damages
Severe storms that battered California this winter are set to continue into spring.
Atmospheric rivers and cold fronts have brought near-record rain and snow to areas that have been battling drought-like conditions for many years. More storms are predicted to make landfall in coming weeks.
The storms have led to flooding, road closures, power outages and fatalities. They have caused billions of dollars in damages.
Gov. Gavin Newsom last week eased some drought restrictions after the three driest years on record. He didn’t declare the drought to be over because water shortages remain in parts of densely populated Southern California.
Approaching warmer temperatures are expected to increase the risk of floods and mudslides as snowpack starts to melt in the mountains, threatening foothill communities.
“This is not a normal year,” said Michael Wehner, a scientist in the computational research division at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, in Berkeley, Calif. One of the factors that has led to near-record rainfall is the weather phenomenon La Niña. The powerful pattern, which has now ended, has a pronounced effect on weather in the U.S. as it shifts the jet stream north.
California experienced at least four “Pineapple Expresses,” strong atmospheric storms in which moisture builds up in the Pacific around Hawaii and pelts the West Coast with heavy rainfall and snow, according to Alex Tardy, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. A Pineapple Express can bring as much as 5 inches of rain in one day, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
A succession of moderate storms, meanwhile, has saturated the soil. Cold fronts and snow storms dumped record amounts of snow in some places, reaching levels last seen in the 1980s. Lakes and reservoirs that store water are nearing capacity in some areas.
California’s 54-person congressional delegation wrote to President Biden Wednesday saying they support the state’s request for a “major disaster declaration,” and asked for more federal support.
Here are key figures from the storms so far:
California has experienced about 25 atmospheric rivers since the winter storms began late last year, with Southern California experiencing at least 12 of those storms, according to Mr. Tardy, the meteorologist.
Statewide snowpack is nearing record levels at 60.5 inches. That is higher than any other reading since the snow sensor network, a measuring device used when it rains or snows, was established in the mid-1980s, according to Sean de Guzman of the California Department of Water Resources.
“This year will certainly be in the top three or four snowpack years since the 1950s,” said Mr. de Guzman.
Snow in the Sierra Nevada is a little more than double the historical 30-year average, according to Mr. Tardy. The Mammoth and Tahoe regions have received the most snow on the West Coast, he said.
“Our snowpack has never been this deep,” Mr. Tardy said.
Snowpack is the amount of snow on the ground that persists until the arrival of warmer weather. When it turns to snowmelt, the runoff can affect water supply.
Snowfall, which measures how much snow has fallen in a certain period, is also close to record highs.
The University of California, Berkeley’s Central Sierra Snow Lab in Soda Springs, Calif., said this year’s snowfall was the largest since the early 1980s. The lab has recorded 713.8 inches, or 59.5 feet, of snowfall since October, compared with a normal full-season total of around 360 inches, or 30 feet, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
With another 20.7 inches of snow added this week, it is now the second-snowiest winter since the lab began tracking measurements in 1946. More snow is expected next week.
Lakes and reservoirs in some parts of the state are nearing capacity, according to Mr. Tardy. Lake Oroville and Shasta Lake have tripled their capacity, and were at 81% and 82% capacity, respectively, as of March 28.
Since December, Lake Oroville, the state’s largest water storage facility, has increased approximately 200 feet in depth and gained just under 2 million acre-feet of water, according to California’s Department of Water Resources.
Severe weather and flooding in California since Dec. 26, 2022, has led to $5 billion to $7 billion in damages, according to a Moody’s report from late January. The estimate reflects inland flood impact and includes damage to infrastructure caused by atmospheric river storms, according to the report. It is based on event reconstruction and reflects property damage and interruption to businesses “across residential, commercial, industrial, automobile and infrastructure assets,” according to Moody’s.
California has spent more than $60 million in response and recovery work, according to the governor’s office.
Dozens of people have died after fierce storms lashed California. Only some of those deaths will be classified as weather-related, because authorities tend to investigate only fatalities of people who weren’t under medical care or in a hospice, or if it wasn’t known if they were under a doctor’s care. It can take time to determine a storm-related death.
The California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services said this week it has confirmed nine storm-related deaths, including two in San Francisco County, and one each in Lassen, Mariposa, Placer, San Bernardino, San Mateo, Santa Clara, and Ventura counties.