10th annual Citizens M&A Outlook finds business owners and private equity firms expect wave of deals in H2

An improved public health environment and the possibility of higher capital gains taxes will likely drive increased merger and acquisition activity in 2021, according to a Citizens survey of 700 leaders at US middle market companies and private equity firms.

Companies will rely on M&A for growth in 2021 and more sellers will be open to making deals, particularly in the second half, survey respondents said.
 
Typically, the economic outlook is the most significant factor in a company’s consideration of an M&A transaction. However, findings show that in 2021 Covid-19 and tax policies of the Biden administration are top drivers, with increased expectations for a M&A spike if the administration passes capital gains tax hikes.
 
Upbeat expectations for corporate valuations and deal flow in the year ahead are also fuelling a decidedly optimistic M&A forecast.
 
“Many business leaders expect the continued rollout of vaccines and the prospect of increased taxes to spur a robust year in terms of deal flow, especially in the second half,” says Ralph M Della Ratta, chairman, Citizens M&A Advisory.
 
“2020 left a backlog of pent-up demand for M&A. With strong valuations, we think a lot of PE firms and liquidity-seeking owners will be eager to get to the market," adds Jim Childs, CEO, Citizens M&A Advisory. “The pandemic may have been the last straw for many business owners who are looking to step back or retire.”
 
Key findings of Citizens’ 10th annual Middle Market M&A Outlook include:
The pandemic seems to have reduced overall economic optimism, with only 47 per cent of middle-market companies anticipating broad improvement in 2021, but business leaders are more confident in their own corporate outlooks, with 55 per cent feeling bullish about the coming year.

The majority of business leaders (60 per cent) expect corporate growth to continue to come from M&A activity, as strategic growth remains a top priority in 2021.

Top reasons to sell were to increase the focus on strategic growth opportunities (67 per cent) and to take advantage of current valuations (44 per cent). The top reasons to buy were to increase revenue and growth (61 per cent) and to improve operational efficiency (41 per cent).

Respondents gave the current M&A environment a muted grade, with nearly half of corporate (49 per cent) and PE respondents (41 per cent) characterising it as weak. However, they agree that a turnaround is ahead. Thirty-six per cent of companies and 45 per cent of PE firms expect marked improvement in 2021, with a particular focus on the second half of the year.

Interest in finding an international deal partner is down among both buyers and sellers, a trend for the past three years.

Confidence in deal completion is down starkly and is an area where teaming with an M&A advisor could help to overcome deal roadblocks. Sellers are looking for a strong partnership to help them find potential offers – a need that didn’t make the list of top priorities last year.
 
The Middle Market M&A Outlook was conducted among U.S.-based, middle-market businesses (USD50 million to USD1 billion in revenue) that are currently engaged in or open to mergers and acquisitions activity, as well as private equity firms with clients in the same revenue range. Core business sectors included healthcare, technology, industrial, consumer services, B2B services and other industries.
 
Business executives at 470 middle market firms and 230 private equity firms who are directly involved in decision-making related to mergers and acquisitions (owners/partners, CEOs, presidents and other C-level and directors) completed a 15-minute phone or web-based survey during November and December 2020.
 

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