Although the exact start date of the financial crash will differ depending on who you talk to, August 2017 was widely acknowledged as the 10-year anniversary of the first signs of the global financial crisis. In the two years that followed, 2008 and 2009 saw the shockwaves of the crash hit the M&A industry, with global M&A volumes falling over 40%, and reported deal values by nearly 55%.

The results of the crash changed the market significantly. Companies now implement increased geographical diversification and investment strategies in secondary markets. In the UK alone, Chinese investment has tripled and US activity has grown 40% since 2014.

Ten years on from the crash, volumes are 5% higher than the 2008 peak, disclosed aggregate values are 12% higher, and the proportion of transactions with undisclosed values is higher than ever, at nearly 60%*. So what happened to the M&A market over the last decade?

Looking back: global transaction volumes

 In the year to the 31st July 2008, overall global transaction volumes fell 7.5% to 9,425 global reported deals. In the following year, they fell another 37%, to a trough of only 60% of their 2008 level (5,962 deals) as companies and investors chose to hold tight and wait out the storm. The drop resulted from lower deal values in sinking equity markets, access to financing for larger transactions and general uncertainty on the economic outlook.

The effects hit some regions harder than others in 2009. The DAX region (Germany, Austria, Switzerland) saw a 24% fall, The Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal) dropped dramatically by 34% and the Nordic region was hit harder, with an abrupt 7% decline in 2008 and a further 39% decline in 2009, pushing transaction volumes 43% below their peak.  The Indochinese market followed a similar pattern with a gentler decline, with volumes growing 1.6% in 2008 (from 368 to 374), then falling by a further 22.5% in 2009.

The UK and North America, the traditional engines of transaction volume, which together accounted for around 75% of deals in 2008, saw the fastest declines. UK volumes fell 7.5% and US volumes by nearly 9%. In 2009, it was the UK market which saw the most severe contraction, as volumes fell by half, pushing transaction numbers down to 817 from 1,762 in 2007. This decline in volumes over the two-year period was significantly greater than the decline anywhere else.


Transaction Volume – twelve months to 31 July 2007

Transaction Volume – twelve months to 31 July 2009

Two-year Decline in Transaction Volume









Iberian Peninsula








North America       













The peak and the trough: Disclosed values  

Disclosed values tell a more nuanced story. The headlines looked worse, with a decline in global disclosed value of 55%. This makes sense, because smaller deals are less likely to have valuations disclosed. This is usually due to private shareholders not wanting the financial terms to be disclosed and no regulatory pressure to disclose deals below a certain threshold.

This varied by region far more than the slowdown in volumes did. For example, the US had the most abrupt decline in 2008 (down 48%) and a gentler decline in 2009 (down a further 17%, for an overall 57% reduction in reported transaction values). In contrast, the DAX region actually increased deal values in 2008, albeit by less than 1%, then saw a 44% slowdown in 2009.

The UK’s decline mirrored the DAX, but more starkly, with values declining by less than 1% in 2008 then dropping 52% in 2009. The Nordics suffered even more in value terms, as reported aggregate values dropped by nearly a quarter (24%) in 2008 and a further 72% in 2009, closing nearly 80% down on the peak.


Aggregate reported Transaction Value £m – twelve months to 31 July 2007

Aggregate reported Transaction Value £m– twelve months to 31 July 2009

Two-year Movement in aggregate reported Transaction Value £m









Iberian Peninsula








North America       













In the year to 2007, the UK and North America accounted for 82% of global reported transaction value; in the year to 2009, despite their precipitous declines, they still accounted for 80% of global reported value.

Overall, aggregate reported deal values fell faster than transaction volumes, as larger deals which tend to be higher-risk were cancelled or delayed and, wherever possible, sellers sought to avoid disclosing the terms of transactions which may well have been concluded at lower valuations than they would have been 12 or 18 months earlier.


10 years on: a market snapshot

Ten years after these significant declines in volume and reported value, what does the landscape look like?

The North American market has increased volumes 80% from the 2009 trough, to 6,067 deals in the 12 months to 31 July 2017, while reported transaction value has surged at more than double that rate, increasing 170% from 2009 to 2017 and is now 16% above the 2007 peak. The business services and media and technology sectors remain key to US growth, together accounting for half of all inbound acquisitions, with the world’s best-developed funding environment for start-up and high-growth companies.

The DAX region shows a similar profile, with transaction volumes up 58% and values nearly doubling to 130% of their 2009 level. The Iberian Peninsula has shown gentler growth and remains below its 2007 peak. With volumes increasing 40% from 2009 to 2017, aggregate values remain 30% down on their 2007 levels while volumes. However, as the Spanish economy turns a corner, Chinese interest in the market rose markedly this year.

Indochinese volumes are up the most compared to 2007, now at 30% above their peak, while values have nearly tripled - with aggregate reported transaction values topping £100bn compared to £26bn in 2007. Transaction flow between China and Europe is expected to grow even stronger.

The Nordic region has shown the greatest growth, as volumes more than doubled from 2009 to 2017 and are now 24% above their 2007 peak, while aggregate valuations more than tripled from £14bn to £55bn, although this is still 15% down on the 2007 peak of £65bn. Chinese interest remains important in this market and American acquisitions increased quickly in the second half of 2016.

Volumes in the UK market have nearly doubled from 2009 to 2017, but remain 8% down on their 2007 peak, while reported values grew 61% from 2009 and remain 23% down.


Growth in Volume 2009-2017

Growth in reported value 2009-2017

2017 aggregate reported value relative to 2007 peak









Iberian Peninsula








North America       













 To infinity and beyond

 Despite the effects of the crash still reverberating through the political sphere, the market as a whole has shown itself remarkably sanguine about what would previously have been considered major macro-political uncertainty. Political change and economic uncertainty in Europe, the unpredictable statements and actions of President Trump, and the self-imposed uncertainty caused by the Brexit vote and subsequent approach to negotiations have all had relatively little effect on the markets.

This remains a strong sellers’ market. The drive for growth from strategic acquirers has seen volumes rise steadily since the trough, and accelerate since 2011, albeit with a few bumps in the road causing short-term and temporary slowdowns.

The wall of private equity money in search of high-quality investment opportunities, combined with the influx of new investors such as debt and pension funds that are willing to make direct private equity-style investments for bond-like yields, have driven values for differentiated, market-leading businesses to compelling levels not seen for over 10 years.

The ready availability of super-cheap debt has helped fuel and finance these valuations. Owners of well-performing businesses considering their exit options may be well-advised to take advantage of these conditions, which have now surpassed the previous highs of the 2007 peak in most markets.

*  Livingstone Global Acquirer report H2 2016

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