First quarter Canadian M&A activity was lacklustre and resumed the downward trend that began 5 quarters ago. According to the Financial Post Crosbie: Mergers & Acquisitions in Canada database, there were 196 transactions in Q1 worth $25.9 billion. Although the quarterly decline appeared pronounced with a decline in activity of 35% and 51% in value from the strong fourth quarter (301 transactions worth $52.8 billion), Q4 now looks like a relative outlier as M&A resumed its downward multi-quarter trend. Activity in Q1 was at the lowest level since Q1/2009 and has also declined below the general range of quarterly activity observed since the financial crisis.
“The softness is in many ways counterintuitive,” said Colin Walker, Managing Director at Crosbie & Company. “Many of conditions should be quite favourable for M&A transactions but obviously, something is holding the market back. Some of the culprits likely include the macro-economic uncertainty, the impact of low rates, as well as certain sector specific issues.”
Large transaction (over $1 billion) activity hit the lowest quarterly level since Q1 2010, with only three transactions announced and an aggregate value of $7.7 billion. The largest of these transactions was the acquisition of Primaris Retail Real Estate Investment Trust by H&R Real Estate Investment Trust for $4.6 billion. The other two transactions were the acquisition of Irish Life Group Limited by Great-West Lifeco Inc. for $1.8 billion and JSC Atomredmetzoloto’s acquisition of Uranium One Inc. for $1.3 billion.
Capital groups remained relatively active in the quarter with a total of 10 transactions over $100 million this quarter for an aggregate value of $8.1 billion. While down from 21 transactions last quarter, the showing this quarter is in line with the level of activity seen in most recent quarters. Canadian pension funds continued to be active, accounting for half of all the capital group announcements, three of which were real estate transactions; a continuation of the trend seen in recent quarter with pension funds actively acquiring local and international real estate assets. The largest capital group transaction in the quarter was the acquisition of Primaris Retail Real Estate Investment Trust by H&R Real Estate Investment Trust for $4.6 billion where Ontario Pension Board was one of the buyers.
Real Estate was the most active industry sector this quarter with a total of 69 deals (worth $11.5 billion), representing 35% of total M&A activity. Consumable Fuels was the second most active sector with 30 transactions for a value of $3 billion.
The top two sectors accounted for over 50% of total M&A activity and 56% of aggregate value. In the past 11 quarters, Real Estate has been the most active sector 8 times with Consumable Fuels being the most active the remaining three times.“The weakness in M&A activity this quarter was very broad, impacting most sectors outside of Real Estate and Financial Services,” said Colin Walker. “Of particular note is the weakness in both Mining and Consumable Fuels which reflects the individual issues facing each of those sectors.”
Cross-border transactions played its usual central role in the Canadian M&A market accounting for 40% of all announcements in the quarter. While Canadian firms’ acquisitions of foreign companies exceeded foreign acquisitions of Canadian firms by a ratio of 2.2 to 1, it is notable that Canadian firms also outspent their foreign counterparts on cross-border acquisitions by a ratio of 2 to 1 which reflects the lack of any larger foreign take-overs in the quarter. The largest cross-border transaction in the quarter was the aforementioned Irish Life Group transaction.
“Canadian firms continue to actively pursue attractive foreign acquisitions, which is a testament to the relative strength of Canadian firms and is an encouraging indicator in spite of the sharp decline in overall activity this quarter,” commented Colin Walker