We've been taking a close look at middle-market dealmaking activity in the first three quarters of the year, and what we see is sobering. The year began well, and expectations that 2015 would be as prosperous for M&A as 2014 were met for the most part in the first quarter. But it’s been pretty much downhill ever since, with the second quarter yielding fewer completed transactions than the first and the third quarter even fewer than the second, according to data from Thomson Reuters.

It’s tempting to argue against the data. For one thing, other reports have lauded 2015 as a banner year for M&A. But if you peak under the lid of the data they cite, you’ll find they’re referring to deal announcements, not completions, and you’ll see that they are buoyed up by some mega mergers well beyond the scope of the middle market.

Anecdotally, many dealmakers in the middle market say they are having a good year, and the best transaction professionals and firms probably are. But the numbers make it clear that, as a whole, the middle market has been slowing down.

All eyes are now on the fourth quarter, which is traditionally packed with networking opportunities that lead to deals. Unfortunately, though, a big uptick seems unlikely, given the responses we’ve been receiving on Mergers & Acquisitions’ monthly surveys, which are answered by approximately 250 executives. In our polls, participants have expressed concerns about a wide range of global political and economic issues that they predict will drag down dealmaking.

Adding insult to injury, just as we were finishing up this November issue of Mergers & Acquisitions, American Apparel Inc. (NYSE: APP) filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. While long anticipated -- as assistant managing editor Allison Collins chronicled in our October cover story -- the move nonetheless began the fourth quarter not with a bang but a whimper, adding to the sense that 2015 may not end anywhere near as rosily as it began.

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