Mergers & Acquisitions Are On the Rise in Logistics Sector

Merger and acquisition (M&A) deal activity in the global transportation and logistics (T&L) sector continued its positive momentum in the fourth quarter of 2010, according to a new >>PwC<< US Intersections report. In the fourth quarter, there were 42 announced deals, compared to the 38 deals in the previous quarter. Additionally, total deal value showed a dramatic spike, climbing 111% to $35.6 billion in Q4 2010, compared to $16.9 billion in the third quarter of 2010.

The increased number of mega-deals in Q4 helped to drive growth in both deal value and deal volume totals. The 14 mega-deals (deals with a disclosed value of at least $1 billion) announced in 2010 represent a strong increase from the nine mega-deals reported in 2009. Additionally, six of the 14 mega-deals reported in 2010 were announced during the fourth quarter. Several of these mega-deals were for passenger ground targets, which resulted in this category accounting for half of the deal value announced during Q4 2010.

Recent trends in acquisition techniques reflect the improved operating and credit environments. Deals for targets in bankruptcy and restructuring continue to decline, while the greater availability of, and willingness to use, credit is contributing to the rise in leveraged buyout activity. Healthier credit markets have likely contributed to a decline in stock swaps (in which an acquirer uses its stock to purchase a controlling interest in a target), likely reflecting the various, and sometimes competing options, acquirers have in financing M&A investments.

“Deal activity in the T&L sector strengthened in the fourth quarter, returning to a level not seen since 2008. Many companies are in a better position to engage in new deals, as evidenced by lower average financial leverage and higher cash positions,” says Kenneth Evans, U.S. transportation and logistics leader for PwC. “This improved financial position is the result of a concerted effort by companies in this sector to use the recent economic downturn as an opportunity to boost liquidity and strengthen balance sheets. As a result, the overall tone of the deal market is highly positive, and we’re optimistic about T&L deal activity in 2011.”

Financial investors reasserted themselves in the deal market during Q4 2010, a trend largely driven by the recovering credit markets. While these acquirers have mostly remained on the sidelines in terms of M&A activity for the past several years, current macro-conditions support their sustained return to the T&L deal market, which bodes well for future deal activity.

Notably, both the increase in the pace of deal activity and number of mega-deals during Q4 2010 coincide with a decline in the contribution of U.S. entities to the deal market. Only one mega-deal announced during the fourth quarter involved a U.S. entity. This decline is consistent with earlier predictions that the increased U.S. involvement in the T&L deal market could be short-lived based upon muted growth expectations.

The global distribution of sector deal activity during 2010 indicates that acquirers primarily focused on consolidating their local markets, particularly in the Asia and Oceania region. In 2010, the Asia & Oceania region led all local deal activity with 63 deals worth $36.6 billion, followed by Europe’s 25 local deals worth $15.6 billion, North America’s 21 local deals worth $10 billion, and South America’s 10 local deals worth $6.5 billion.

“The strong performance in Q4 has given us a renewed sense of optimism regarding M&A activity in the T&L sector, but we’ll need to closely monitor several factors that could potentially stall the global recovery moving forward,” says Klaus-Dieter Ruske, global transportation and logistics leader for PwC. “Concerns related to the endurance of the economic recovery in many developed markets, as well as rising valuations and diminished returns, still linger. However, these are relatively minor concerns compared with the numerous positive factors unfolding in the industry, so we remain encouraged about the global outlook for T&L deal activity in the year ahead.”

The fourth quarter Intersections report takes a close look at recent expansion into the VISTA (Vietnam, Indonesia, South Africa, Turkey and Argentina) countries and the associated tax implications. Today’s transportation and logistics companies have already found opportunities for growth through the establishment of operations in the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) countries. However, as companies seek to reposition their business strategy to meet new demands, they are now looking for new opportunities in a second wave of emerging markets such as VISTA. When determining how and where to structure a deal, companies should consider the role tax could play in making or breaking the transaction.

In addition to their high gross domestic product (GDP) and rich natural resources, VISTA countries have favorable foreign investment policies. For instance, Indonesia, Vietnam and Turkey implemented tax breaks for capital investments, subsidies for new businesses and low-cost financing to attract new foreign business. Free trade zones, where normal trade barriers such as tariffs and quotas are eliminated and bureaucratic requirements are lowered in hopes of attracting investors from around the globe, are also common in the VISTA countries.

As BRIC countries continue to be saturated by multinational corporations, VISTA is an alternate option for consideration. While by comparison, China and Russia give the advantage to local businesses over outsiders, VISTA country governments view foreign investment as an important source of capital for their economies.

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