Potential tax legislation is a much-feted driver of M&A activity as the year ends. But with dealmaking pipelines already long, it’s unclear if all tax-motivated transactions will make it over the finish line in time. Will the resulting buildup make for an equally frothy first quarter M&A environment?
SRS Acquiom’s poll of 144 financial and strategic buyers and advisors, taken during late September to early October, indicates an ongoing rush for asset sales. Over 82 percent of respondents say taxes are motivating year-end transactions, beating out other considerations including antitrust, data privacy, and Securities and Exchange Commission regulation by a wide margin.
But the impact might be a bit overstated in a climate that’s also propelled by record capital inflows and buoyant equity markets. “There’s no doubt that people on the margin—I can’t say that it’s a significant margin overall—people on the margin are deciding to go sooner,” says Solomon Partners CEO Marc Cooper. “I don’t think that’s the driver, that’s a small tailwind. Now, if people have already decided to go this year, they’re probably saying get this thing done.”
And the tax-driven M&A party might already be over. The survey results, though recently released, already capture a moment in time approaching a month in age. And there’s real reason to believe the window for 2021 dealmaking has already closed. Remember, Bain Capital Credit’s head of private credit Michael Ewald notes that firms can’t even mandate investment banks’ “D-teams” to work on deals given merger backlogs.
More telling might be whether tax changes will augur well for the new year’s deal flow. On this point, the survey respondents were roughly split. Have financial sponsors and corporates already exhausted their exit pipelines? Apollo and Blackstone recently hit new levels of divestiture activity, announced in earnings earlier this week.
“I don’t think capital gains will have an enormous impact on M&A going forward,” Cooper says. “PE will still invest, maybe some entrepreneurs might say I’m going to hold it for a while to see what happens.”
Perhaps with a similar view, poll respondents seem to think the M&A boom times will either plateau or fall off in the near future, with fewer than 5 percent predicting an increase in activity.
“The real rub on cap gains is it will change the economics of making risky investments given higher cost associated with it,” Cooper says.