Private equity deal volumes rose by 40 percent last year, according to data provided by S&P Global Market Intelligence, but their distribution across quarters could provide hints into the durability of this M&A gold rush. Fourth quarter dealmaking clocked in at 6,233 deals by volume, but 30.8 percent closed in December. What gives?

Anecdotes don’t make for a strong data set, but a few tidbits from conversations with bankers last week are still telling of current market conditions.

The ascent had its own vicissitudes—volumes spiked in Q2 at 6,524 only to decline slightly in Q3 and Q4, according to S&P. One middle-market banker said the dealmaking plateau resonates. While activity was frenetic in the last three months, fewer new deals were being launched, he said. Most dealmakers were focused on getting existing transactions closed.

It’s unclear, though, that this means the party is actually over. M&A pipelines are so deep that another banker got a hard ‘no’ from a top 10 financial sponsor in August, who said they were too busy to ink another transaction in 2021 just past the halfway point. Separately, a middle-market PE firm said it’d seen a year’s worth of deals in a single month last year. As those targets work their way through portfolio dispositions, open season for deals will likely extend into the new year.

Brandon Zero