M&A activity has surged in H1 2021, fuelled by both the availability of investment capital from Private Equity and the increased political and economic confidence prompted by the success of the global vaccination take-up.
In its latest report, Ciesco, a specialist M&A advisory firm operating in the tech, digital, media and marketing sectors, said there were 832 transactions announced in H1 2021, a 46 percent increase year-on-year from 2020. Of these, 59 percent of deals were in the UK and US.
The firm, which combines senior-level industry practitioners with sector-specialist investment bankers, also found that the overall disclosed value of deals has increased from $25.2 billion in H1 2020 to $97.8 billion in H1 2021.
The figures suggest rising optimism as the world races to inoculate itself against COVID-19 and its variants. More than 2.79 billion vaccine doses have now been administered around the world—the equivalent of 36 doses for every 100 people. On the back of vaccinations and the easing of restrictions, the global economy has also surpassed its pre-pandemic peak, a survey by IHS Markit shows.
The report suggests the pandemic has accelerated the trend among businesses to focus on social impact, with Private Equity companies actively seeking companies emphasising social and environmental sustainability. It also suggests that acquisition targets were scarcer than the capital available to buy them, driving competition and the value of those deals.
The trend is set to continue, with the global economy expected to register nearly 6 percent growth this year, its biggest expansion in nearly 80 years. The US has already reached pre-pandemic GDP levels, and growth is projected to reach 6.8 percent this year. The UK is expected to reach pre-pandemic GDP in mid-2022. Emerging market and developing economies as a group are forecast to expand 6 percent this year. The Asia-Pacific region recovered from the pandemic recession at the end of last year. This provides a strong backdrop to M&A activity. Ad spend generally follows GDP trends and is projected to grow double digits this year driven by nearly all digital formats.
Chris Sahota, CEO of Ciesco, said: “Digital and business transformation looks set to accelerate at super-speed in 2021 and 2022 with the digital and data-led companies that showed resilience throughout Covid 2020 leading the way.
“Confidence is rapidly returning across the entire sector and many businesses. The global economic predictions look optimistic for the sector and the M&A drive has picked up pace from where we stood before the pandemic struck at the end of the first quarter in 2020. We expect this to continue throughout 2021 and anticipate high and competitive activity, particularly from Private Equity firms, with a specific focus on companies within the digital, technology, data and eCommerce landscape.
“In 2021, we expect many brands to further change or enhance their approach to become better all-round ethical businesses that embrace purpose, social and environmental sustainability.”
Ciesco’s H1 report shows that enthusiastic M&A activity in H1 has accelerated. Companies have been rushing to stay ahead of a wave of trends driven by the pandemic, including shifts in working practices and environments, lifestyles, facilities, shopping and healthcare. H1 activity reflected an ambition among businesses in technology, digital, media and marketing to put themselves in the best position to flourish in the post-COVID era.
In tech, digital, media and marketing in H1, S4 Capital was the most active M&A buyer, disclosing seven acquisitions—most of them completed in Q1. S4 is in the process of raising a term loan of more than $350 million to fund its expansion, and raised its profits forecast twice over the last month due to the recovery of the global economy. It has reported net revenue growth of 84 percent over the first four months of this year.
Accenture announced six acquisitions, the latest being the Malaysia-based agency Entropia. This represents a major step in the firm’s expansion into South-East Asia. It will allow Accenture Interactive to develop its digital capabilities in order to meet the growing demand of its clients and realise its global vision.
Though the top buyers list for H1 comprises strategic buyers, the majority of buyers were Private Equity firms, including big names such as Platinum Equity, Blackstone, Waterland, Ardain, Bain Bridgepoint, HIG, Inflexion, KKR, and Carlyle. There was an 81 percent increase in deal volume among PE firms—they struck 372 deals in H1 2021—and a rise in deal value of 14.2 percent, to $19.2 billion. Nearly half (44 percent) of all transactions in H1 2021 involved a PE buyer.
PE activity was split between the acquisition of new platform companies and bolt-on acquisitions to existing portfolio businesses. In May, CVC and CDPQ acquired a majority stake in BlueFocus’ international group of agencies, for instance, which is made up of three agencies: We Are Social, fuseproject and Vision 7 International. Together they are a digital-first, technology-enabled global advertising and marketing services group with the capital to invest in a growth strategy, both organically and through M&A.
Digital Media was the target sector for which buyers had the greatest appetite, with 172 deals—up 35 percent on H1 2020— made. This sector includes digital publications, podcast operators, streaming and social media platforms, and gaming and esports developers and providers, all of which are growing rapidly in popularity.
The next most-popular target sector was MarTech, where 117 deals were made. Interest in marketing technology companies rose considerably year-on-year, by 60 percent. The next most active sectors were Traditional Media (101 transactions), which includes publishers, followed by Digital Agency (98 transactions). Fifty-nine percent of all deal activity was concentrated in these four sectors.
The two largest markets remain the USA and the UK, where 358 and 109 deals, respectively, were struck. There was a just under 40 percent increase in the number of deals completed in H1 2021 in both countries. France, Germany, Canada, Netherlands and Sweden made up the next five largest markets. Combined, they represent 78 percent of global deal activity. M&A activity almost doubled in Western Europe from 117 deals to 222 deals in H1 2021. There was an increase in M&A activity in all regions globally except in the Middle East.