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The forces driving 2019's global M&A slowdown

Illustration of a cracked piggy bank shaped like the earth
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The collapse of the mega-merger between Fiat-Chrysler and Renault was the latest piece of bad news for lawyers, advisers and other middlemen who make their living brokering corporate tie-ups.

Why it matters: M&A's slowdown this year has been particularly bad for deals involving companies based in different countries, and shows another way globalization's retreat is draining revenue, even from fast-growing segments of the economy.

  • The M&A market has cooled significantly in 2019, both in the number of deals closed and in overall dollar volume.
  • Economic uncertainty, trade wars, rising nationalism and blowback against globalization are helping drive the pullback, experts say.

What's happening: The size of the M&A market rose to a record $4.1 trillion in 2018, but the numbers have fallen significantly this year. The number of global M&A deals at this point in the year is the lowest since 2005 and the value of cross-border deals is the lowest since 2010, data provided to Axios by Dealogic shows.

What they're saying: The souring environment and increasing government intervention is not making it easy for businesses to close deals, particularly in the U.S., Joele Frank, founder and managing partner of investor relations firm Joele Frank, Wilkinson Brimmer Katcher, said this week at the Bloomberg Invest conference.

  • "Everything is incredibly complicated. Everything's got hair," Frank said of deals she's worked on so far this year. "There are a lot more bigger deals, but even the smaller deals we've got have hair all over them."

Yes, but: Despite the lugubrious pace so far, dealmakers remain optimistic. Panelists at Bloomberg Invest's M&A summit largely agreed the second half of the year would bring more deals, as private equity firms still have substantial dry powder available.

  • Further, EY's April survey of more than 2,900 senior executives in 47 countries found the appetite for global M&A at its highest in 10 years, with 59% of global companies planning to make an acquisition in 2019 and 92% of respondents predicting the global market would improve.

The last word: "I'm not ready to write it off as yet," said Anu Aiyengar, head of North American M&A at JPMorgan. "But I do see the difference in regional trends, sectors and the size of deals."