Briefing
Mergers & Acquisitons:

Definitions and Motivations

Prof. Ian Giddy, New York University



Mergers versus Acquisitions

Although they are often used as though they were synonymous, the terms merger and acquisition mean slightly different things.

When one company takes over another and clearly established itself as the new owner, the purchase is called an acquisition. From a legal point of view, the target company ceases to exist, the buyer "swallows" the business and the buyer's stock continues to be traded.

In the pure sense of the term, a merger happens when two firms, often of about the same size, agree to go forward as a single new company rather than remain separately owned and operated. This kind of action is more precisely referred to as a "merger of equals". Both companies' stocks are surrendered and new company stock is issued in its place. For example, both Daimler-Benz and Chrysler ceased to exist when the two firms merged, and a new company, DaimlerChrysler, was created.

In practice, however, actual mergers of equals don't happen very often. Usually, one company will buy another and, as part of the deal's terms, simply allow the acquired firm to proclaim that the action is a merger of equals, even if it is technically an acquisition. Being bought out often carries negative connotations, therefore, by describing the deal euphemistically as a merger, deal makers and top managers try to make the takeover more palatable.

A purchase deal will also be called a merger when both CEOs agree that joining together is in the best interest of both of their companies. But when the deal is unfriendly - that is, when the target company does not want to be purchased - it is always regarded as an acquisition. This is challengeable. An aqusition can be either friendly or hostile. An example of a friendly takeover was when Microsoft bought Fast Search and Transfer . The CEO of the acquired company (FAST) revealed that they had been working with Microsoft for more than 6 months to get the deal which was announced in January, 2008.

Whether a purchase is considered a merger or an acquisition really depends on whether the purchase is friendly or hostile and how it is announced. In other words, the real difference lies in how the purchase is communicated to and received by the target company's board of directors, employees and shareholders. It is quite normal though for M&A deal communications to take place in a so called 'confidentiality bubble' whereby information flows are restricted due to confidentiality agreements.

Acquisitions

An acquisition, also known as a takeover, is the buying of one company (the ‘target’) by another. An acquisition may be friendly or hostile. In the former case, the companies cooperate in negotiations; in the latter case, the takeover target is unwilling to be bought or the target's board has no prior knowledge of the offer. Acquisition usually refers to a purchase of a smaller firm by a larger one. Sometimes, however, a smaller firm will acquire management control of a larger or longer established company and keep its name for the combined entity. This is known as a reverse takeover. Another type of acquisition is reverse merger, a deal that enables a private company to get publicly listed in a short time period. A reverse merger occurs when a private company that has strong prospects and is eager to raise financing buys a publicly listed shell company,usually one with no business and limited assets. Achieving acquisition success has proven to be very difficult, while various studies have showed that 50% of acquisitions were unsuccessful. The acquisition process is very complex, with many dimensions influencing its outcome.

Mergers

merger is a combination of two companies into one larger company. Such actions are commonly voluntary and involve stock swap or cash payment to the target. Stock swap is often used as it allows the shareholders of the two companies to share the risk involved in the deal. A merger can resemble a takeoverbranding; in some cases, terming the combination a "merger" rather than an acquisition is done purely for political or marketing reasons. but result in a new company name (often combining the names of the original companies) and in new

  • Horizontal mergers take place where the two merging companies produce similar product in the same industry.
  • Vertical mergers occur when two firms, each working at different stages in the production of the same good, combine.
  • Congeneric merger/concentric mergers occur where two merging firms are in the same general industry, but they have no mutual buyer/customer or supplier relationship, such as a merger between a bank and a leasing company. Example: Prudential's acquisition of Bache & Company.
  • Conglomerate mergers take place when the two firms operate in different industries.

A unique type of merger called a reverse merger is used as a way of going public without the expense and time required by an IPO.

The contract vehicle for achieving a merger is a "merger sub".

The occurrence of a merger often raises concerns in antitrust circles. Devices such as the Herfindahl index can analyze the impact of a merger on a market and what, if any, action could prevent it. Regulatory bodies such as the European Commission, the United States Department of Justice and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission may investigate anti-trust cases for monopolies dangers, and have the power to block mergers.

Accretive mergers are those in which an acquiring company's earnings per share (EPS) increase. An alternative way of calculating this is if a company with a high price to earnings ratio (P/E) acquires one with a low P/E.

Dilutive mergers are the opposite of above, whereby a company's EPS decreases. The company will be one with a low P/E acquiring one with a high P/E.

The completion of a merger does not ensure the success of the resulting organization; indeed, many mergers (in some industries, the majority) result in a net loss of value due to problems. Correcting problems caused by incompatibility—whether of technology, equipment, or corporate culture— diverts resources away from new investment, and these problems may be exacerbated by inadequate research or by concealment of losses or liabilities by one of the partners. Overlapping subsidiaries or redundant staff may be allowed to continue, creating inefficiency, and conversely the new management may cut too many operations or personnel, losing expertise and disrupting employee culture. These problems are similar to those encountered in takeovers. For the merger not to be considered a failure, it must increase shareholder value faster than if the companies were separate, or prevent the deterioration of shareholder value more than if the companies were separate.

Types of Acquisitions

  • The buyer buys the shares, and therefore control, of the target company being purchased. Ownership control of the company in turn conveys effective control over the assets of the company, but since the company is acquired intact as a going business, this form of transaction carries with it all of the liabilities accrued by that business over its past and all of the risks that company faces in its commercial environment.
  • The buyer buys the assets of the target company. The cash the target receives from the sell-off is paid back to its shareholders by dividend or through liquidation. This type of transaction leaves the target company as an empty shell, if the buyer buys out the entire assets. A buyer often structures the transaction as an asset purchase to "cherry-pick" the assets that it wants and leave out the assets and liabilities that it does not. This can be particularly important where foreseeable liabilities may include future, unquantified damage awards such as those that could arise from litigation over defective products, employee benefits or terminations, or environmental damage. A disadvantage of this structure is the tax that many jurisdictions, particularly outside the United States, impose on transfers of the individual assets, whereas stock transactions can frequently be structured as like-kind exchanges or other arrangements that are tax-free or tax-neutral, both to the buyer and to the seller's shareholders.

Acquisition Motivations and Effects

The dominant rationale used to explain M&A activity is that acquiring firms seek improved financial performance. The following motives are considered to improve financial performance:

  • Synergy: This refers to the fact that the combined company can often reduce its fixed costs by removing duplicate departments or operations, lowering the costs of the company relative to the same revenue stream, thus increasing profit margins.
  • Increased revenue or market share: This assumes that the buyer will be absorbing a major competitor and thus increase its market power (by capturing increased market share) to set prices.
  • Cross-selling: For example, a bank buying a stock broker could then sell its banking products to the stock broker's customers, while the broker can sign up the bank's customers for brokerage accounts. Or, a manufacturer can acquire and sell complementary products.
  • Economy of scale: For example, managerial economies such as the increased opportunity of managerial specialization. Another example are purchasing economies due to increased order size and associated bulk-buying discounts.
  • Taxation: A profitable company can buy a loss maker to use the target's loss as their advantage by reducing their tax liability. In the United States and many other countries, rules are in place to limit the ability of profitable companies to "shop" for loss making companies, limiting the tax motive of an acquiring company.
  • Geographical or other diversification: This is designed to smooth the earnings results of a company, which over the long term smoothens the stock price of a company, giving conservative investors more confidence in investing in the company. However, this does not always deliver value to shareholders (see below).
  • Resource transfer: resources are unevenly distributed across firms (Barney, 1991) and the interaction of target and acquiring firm resources can create value through either overcoming information asymmetry or by combining scarce resources.[1]
  • Vertical integration: Vertical integration occurs when an upstream and downstream firm merge (or one acquires the other). There are several reasons for this to occur. One reason is to internalise an externality problem. A common example is of such an externality is double marginalization. Double marginalization occurs when both the upstream and downstream firms have monopoly power, each firm reduces output from the competitive level to the monopoly level, creating two deadweight losses. By merging the vertically integrated firm can collect one deadweight loss by setting the upstream firm's output to the competitive level. This increases profits and consumer surplus. A merger that creates a vertically integrated firm can be profitable.[2]

However, on average and across the most commonly studied variables, acquiring firms' financial performance does not positively change as a function of their acquisition activity.[3] Therefore, additional motives for merger and acquisiiton that may not add shareholder value include:

  • Diversification: While this may hedge a company against a downturn in an individual industry it fails to deliver value, since it is possible for individual shareholders to achieve the same hedge by diversifying their portfolios at a much lower cost than those associated with a merger.
  • Manager's hubris: manager's overconfidence about expected synergies from M&A which results in overpayment for the target company.
  • Empire-building: Managers have larger companies to manage and hence more power.
  • Manager's compensation: In the past, certain executive management teams had their payout based on the total amount of profit of the company, instead of the profit per share, which would give the team a perverse incentive to buy companies to increase the total profit while decreasing the profit per share (which hurts the owners of the company, the shareholders).

Leveraged Buyouts

LBOs are takeovers of companies using borrowed funds and private equity. Typically, the target company's assets and cash flow serve as support for the funding taken out by the acquirer, which repays the debt out of cash flow and asset disposals of the acquired company.


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