October 24, 2012
The fog of deal-making
Our friend the Deal Professor had an interesting piece yesterday about the M&A activity heating up among cellphone companies. He warns that
"We’ve seen this story before — in the battle over RJR Nabisco that was made famous by “Barbarians at the Gate” and in deal-making frenzy during the dot-com boom. When faced with a changing competitive landscape, executives spend billions because they believe they have no other choice. The cost to the company — and to shareholders — can be immense. In this world, executive hubris tends to dominate as overconfidence and the need to be the biggest on the block cloud reason.
. . .
The rush to complete deals is an investment banker’s dream.
But the hunt may lead these companies to not only overpay but acquire companies that are underperforming or otherwise don’t fit well. Then they have to find a way to run them profitably."
Investors in these companies, and the people running them, should carefully consider his warnings.
As I explored in a recent paper, various empirical studies on the overall return to acquisitions find that they may lead to destruction of value, particularly for shareholders of the acquiring firm, who suffer significant losses. Finance and legal scholars who have evaluated the roots of bidder overpayment have pointed both to agency problems and to behavioral biases. The paper has a somewhat long overview of recent studies which suggest that, in many transactions, the acquirer’s directors and management benefit significantly from the deal, whether it is through increased power, prestige, or compensation—including bonuses and/or stock options. Other studies confirm a long-held view that managements’ acquisition decisions can be affected by various behavioral biases such as overconfidence about the value of the deal or managements’ overestimation of and over-optimism regarding their ability to execute the deal successfully.
In addition, last year Don Langevoort published a terrific essay in the journal Transactions which explored the behavioral economics of M&A deals. In the same issue, Joan Heminway published a thought-provoking essay which explored whether "fairness opinions, nearly ubiquitous in M&A transactions, can be better used in the M&A transactional process to mitigate or foreclose the negative effects of prevalent adverse behavioral norms." Both essays are worth a read!
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