Mergers and acquisitions (M&A) is a general term that describes the consolidation of companies or assets through various types of financial transactions, including mergers, acquisitions, consolidations, tender offers, purchase of assets, and management acquisitions. The term M&A also refers to the desks at financial institutions that deal in such activity.
The terms mergers and acquisitions are often used interchangeably, although, in fact, they have slightly different meanings. When one company takes over another and establishes itself as the new owner, the purchase is called an acquisition.
On the other hand, a merger describes two firms, of approximately the same size, that join forces to move forward as a single new entity, rather than remain separately owned and operated. This action is known as a merger of equals. Case in point: Both Daimler-Benz and Chrysler ceased to exist when the two firms merged, and a new company, DaimlerChrysler, was created. Both companies’ stocks were surrendered, and new company stock was issued in its place.
A purchase deal will also be called a merger when both CEOs agree that joining together is in the best interest of both of their companies.
Unfriendly or hostile takeover deals, in which target companies do not wish to be purchased, are always regarded as acquisitions. A deal can be classified as a merger or an acquisition based on whether the acquisition is friendly or hostile and how it is announced. In other words, the difference lies in how the deal is communicated to the target company’s board of directors, employees, and shareholders.
In a merger, the boards of directors for two companies approve the combination and seek shareholders’ approval. For example, in 1998, a merger deal occurred between the Digital Equipment Corporation and Compaq, whereby Compaq absorbed the Digital Equipment Corporation. Compaq later merged with Hewlett-Packard in 2002. Compaq’s pre-merger ticker symbol was CPQ. This was combined with Hewlett-Packard’s ticker symbol (HWP) to create the current ticker symbol (HPQ).
In a simple acquisition, the acquiring company obtains the majority stake in the acquired firm, which does not change its name or alter its organizational structure. An example of this type of transaction is Manulife Financial Corporation’s 2004 acquisition of John Hancock Financial Services, wherein both companies preserved their names and organizational structures.
Consolidation creates a new company by combining core businesses and abandoning the old corporate structures. Stockholders of both companies must approve the consolidation, and subsequent to the approval, receive common equity shares in the new firm. For example, in 1998, Citicorp and Travelers Insurance Group announced a consolidation, which resulted in Citigroup.
In a tender offer, one company offers to purchase the outstanding stock of the other firm at a specific price rather than the market price. The acquiring company communicates the offer directly to the other company’s shareholders, bypassing the management and board of directors. For example, in 2008, Johnson & Johnson made a tender offer to acquire Omrix Biopharmaceuticals for $438 million. Though the acquiring company may continue to exist—especially if there are certain dissenting shareholders—most tender offers result in mergers.
In an acquisition of assets, one company directly acquires the assets of another company. The company whose assets are being acquired must obtain approval from its shareholders. The purchase of assets is typical during bankruptcy proceedings, wherein other companies bid for various assets of the bankrupt company, which is liquidated upon the final transfer of assets to the acquiring firms.
In a management acquisition, also known as a management-led buyout (MBO), a company’s executives purchase a controlling stake in another company, taking it private. These former executives often partner with a financier or former corporate officers in an effort to help fund a transaction. Such M&A transactions are typically financed disproportionately with debt, and the majority of shareholders must approve it. For example, in 2013, Dell Corporation announced that it was acquired by its founder, Michael Dell.
Mergers can be structured in a number of different ways, based on the relationship between the two companies involved in the deal:
Mergers may also be distinguished by following two financing methods, each with its own ramifications for investors.
As the name suggests, this kind of merger occurs when one company purchases another company. The purchase is made with cash or through the issue of some kind of debt instrument. The sale is taxable, which attracts the acquiring companies, who enjoy the tax benefits. Acquired assets can be written up to the actual purchase price, and the difference between the book value and the purchase price of the assets can depreciate annually, reducing taxes payable by the acquiring company.
With this merger, a brand new company is formed, and both companies are bought and combined under the new entity. The tax terms are the same as those of a purchase merger.