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Record breaker: US M&A 2021

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US M&A had an extraordinary year in 2021, with total deal value reaching US$2.6 trillion—surpassing US$2 trillion for the first time

M&A roars into 2022 on momentum of a record-shattering year

Challenges loom—including the possibilities of tighter regulations, rising inflation and a stock market correction—but markets show little sign of slowing down

The value of US M&A blew past the US$2 trillion mark in 2021, ending the year more than 30 percent above the previous record set in 2015. US deal value reached US$2.6 trillion, twice the value of 2020, and volume set a new record at 7,896 transactions.

Confidence reigned among dealmakers as stock markets continued to rise; increasing numbers of SPACs sought merger targets; and private equity houses set new records, deploying some of the sector's historic levels of dry powder. All of which was underwritten by flexible and cheap debt financing.

Technology was a major driver of M&A, fueled by pandemic-related trends that continued to accelerate deployment of digital technologies across all sectors. The tech sector itself led the sector charts. Companies with product mixes boosted by the pandemic, including those in the pharma and healthcare sector, turned to M&A to complement and add to their existing business portfolios.

Despite a continuing positive outlook, dealmakers will need to keep potential risks in mind in 2022. Under the Biden administration, CFIUS went on a recruitment drive, and it will clearly continue to take a more aggressive stance across sectors, particularly when deals involve technology.

Indeed, regulatory scrutiny is tightening from a number of angles. The Securities and Exchange Commission under chair Gary Gensler is taking a tougher stance on enforcement and has its sights set on SPACs, cryptocurrencies and ESG. And the Federal Trade Commission has announced far-reaching antitrust policy changes that may require companies that reach settlements to observe a ten-year mandatory clearance period on new acquisitions and disposals—the new rules would even apply to buyers of affected assets.

This increasingly tough approach to regulating M&A has so far had little impact on dealmakers' appetites for transactions—although new rules may eventually render some deals less attractive.

In response to recent inflation, the Fed will increase interest rates, which could pose another challenge for dealmakers. But given that rates are so low by historical standards, increases are unlikely to have any direct significant effect on M&A for most of 2022.

One of the biggest questions is whether stock markets will continue to hold up. A correction seems inevitable at some point, but it's unclear what might trigger one in the foreseeable future. For example, markets seem to have shrugged off concerns related to the emergence of the Omicron variant of COVID-19—at least at the time of writing. And private equity still has a mountain of capital to deploy. Recent events, however, suggest that markets will be volatile.

As a result, although regulatory hurdles continue to multiply, we expect 2022 will be another strong year for US M&A, with robust activity through the first half and possibly well beyond.

 

Surging M&A surpasses expectations

All the stars aligned in 2021, creating a confident and exceptionally busy M&A market

Record breaker: US M&A 2021

Record year for private equity dealmaking

Transaction values more than doubled year-on-year, as firms deployed ever-larger amounts of dry powder

Record breaker: US M&A 2021

What's next for SPACs?

Dynamics may be changing as the focus shifts to de-SPACs and regulatory scrutiny intensifies

Record breaker: US M&A 2021

Sectors

Sector overview: Strong M&A activity pervades nearly every sector

In what was a stand-out year, M&A picked up the pace in almost every sector

Record breaker: US M&A 2021

Oil & gas M&A trends up due to recovery in demand and the pressing need for clean energy

Dealmaking may continue to rise, as price volatility abates and companies embrace energy transition

Record breaker: US M&A 2021

Technology M&A continues record run

The pervasiveness of technology, particularly since the pandemic, continues to drive deals to all-time highs

Record breaker: US M&A 2021

Pharma and healthcare deliver strong results

Despite the absence of megadeals, M&A in the sector climbed from 2020 levels thanks in part to strong PE and SPAC activity

Record breaker: US M&A 2021

Real estate deals come back to life

After dropping in 2020, real estate M&A ramped up significantly in 2021

Record breaker: US M&A 2021

In Focus

Antitrust: Extended timelines and broader scope

The Federal Trade Commission is taking an increasingly stringent approach to antitrust investigations

Record breaker: US M&A 2021

Cross-border deals face increased CFIUS scrutiny

Increased sector scope and concerns around a more aggressive approach to identifying non-notified transactions is leading to rising numbers of filings

Record breaker: US M&A 2021

SEC enforcement ramps up

Dealmakers should be braced for a more aggressive stance under Chair Gary Gensler

Record breaker: US M&A 2021

Financing likely to continue largely as is, despite inflationary worries

Borrower-friendly terms over the past few years have helped boost M&A totals—and a number of factors suggest the financing will not change dramatically in 2022

Record breaker: US M&A 2021

Good security practices for data and networks are essential to M&A success

With data privacy laws tightening and cyberattacks on the rise, due diligence of technology networks and data processes should be a top priority for dealmakers

Record breaker: US M&A 2021

Notable decisions from Delaware courts

In the second half of 2021, Delaware courts issued several decisions affecting M&A dealmaking

Record breaker: US M&A 2021

What's in store for 2022?

Five factors that will shape dealmaking over the coming 12 months

Record breaker: US M&A 2021
Record breaker: US M&A 2021

Cross-border deals face increased CFIUS scrutiny

Increased sector scope and concerns around a more aggressive approach to identifying non-notified transactions is leading to rising numbers of filings

Insight
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3 min read

The signing of the Foreign Investment Risk Review Modernization Act (FIRRMA) into law in 2018 was the most significant update to CFIUS in more than a decade. For years leading up to the new legislation, there had been a rising vigilance around foreign investments into the US, but FIRRMA significantly expanded the committee's scope, enabling it to focus on more sectors and examine non-controlling investments.

The result has been that more cross-border transactions now fall under the US national security umbrella than ever before. Thirty years ago, CFIUS concerns mainly applied to energy, telecommunications and defense deals; today businesses across a variety of sectors need to file for review. This is in part driven by digitalization—a side effect of which is the ever-growing amount of personal data held by businesses. Indeed, deals involving data, as well as critical technologies or infrastructure, are among the most scrutinized, although companies in most sectors are increasingly filing—sometimes due to concerns raised by their supply chains.

More and more, parties to transactions or investments involving US businesses with even remote ties to US national security are opting to file voluntarily in a bid to reduce uncertainty. This applies across a variety of dealmaker types, including strategics and financial investors such as private equity and sovereign wealth funds.

A tougher stance on non-notified transactions

Some of this voluntary filing is being driven by the Committee's tougher stance on examining non-notified transactions. These have stepped up since 2018, as CFIUS increased its oversight and enforcement resources. Although these enforcement measures have mainly focused on live transactions, CFIUS has also taken action against many completed deals—including ones that had closed several years previous. Those with a connection to Russia or China are a particular target, reflecting rising geopolitical tensions and security concerns between these states and the US in recent years.

Foreign jurisdictions tighten scrutiny

Added to this is the fact that other governments are taking a similarly stringent approach to foreign investment in their own countries. In Germany, the Foreign Trade and Payments Act was updated in 2020 as was the Foreign Trade and Payments Ordinance in 2021. These changes have extended rules on overseas investment and now include health-related businesses in the country's list of sensitive sectors. There have also been similar moves in the UK, Italy, Spain, Australia and New Zealand, and China has enacted new foreign investment security review measures in the past year. And while the US regime has a specific focus on national security, some other states have broadened their objectives to include areas such as economic security, and public order and safety.

The effect of reforms in the US and elsewhere is to make cross-border transactions more complex, especially where they involve multiple jurisdictions. Dealmakers need to be increasingly aware of any requirements to file transactions for review—and potentially consider voluntary notifications—and prepare accordingly.

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© 2022 White & Case LLP

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