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Citizens M&A Outlook Finds Surging Enthusiasm Supported by Unexpected Factors

January 11, 2024, 08:00 AM
Filed Under: Mergers & Acquisitions

Citizens’ 2024 M&A Outlook revealed optimism around the environment for dealmaking activity this year, underpinned by solid expectations for the U.S. economy and a pop in enthusiasm, especially among buyers. The annual survey of 400 leaders at U.S. middle-market companies and private equity firms also uncovered notable trends related to interest in artificial intelligence (AI) assets, international dealmaking and the upcoming U.S. election that provide support for the upbeat forecast.

Mid-market firms are the most optimistic they have been since 2020, with 46% expecting a strong M&A market in 2024. PE firms are even more positive. More than half (52%) see strength in the current M&A market, up from just 38% last year. Further, 46% of PE firms expect higher deal volumes in 2024, compared to just 19% that expect deal flow to decrease.

“A sense of normalcy is returning to the M&A environment. Companies across sectors are looking at their economic prospects and seeing opportunities,” said Jason Wallace, head of Citizens M&A Advisory. “There is still caution, but that positive economic backdrop will continue to bring activity back to the market.”

Fewer mid-market companies cite operating factors such as commodity prices, interest rates and labor markets as headwinds for 2024 than did so in 2023, and the average economic forecast is significantly more optimistic than it was last year. Forty-six percent of mid-market companies and 50% of PE firms expect U.S. economic conditions to improve in 2024. Among those who expect an improving economy, 68% are likely to engage in M&A activity this year.

As economic conditions improve, more assets are expected to come to market, contributing to palpable buyer enthusiasm. Of the PE firms who see higher deal flow in 2024, 79% expect to buy more than they did in 2023, while only 21% expect to sell more. Among mid-market firms, the pool of potential buyers also expanded for the second year in a row.

“The disruptions to M&A in ’22 and ’23 have led to some imbalances, for instance the sheer amount of private equity capital on the sidelines,” said Gavin Slader, head of M&A at Citizens JMP Securities. “We are now seeing excitement from buyers, which could be just what the markets need to find balance again.”

Unexpected factors support M&A optimism

In addition to upbeat expectations for the U.S. economy in the year ahead, the survey revealed several unexpected factors that could catalyze dealmaking in 2024. These include:

  • PE Firms look ready to shop, and AI is on the wish list. Of the PE firms that see higher deal flow in 2024, eight in 10 say they expect to buy more than they did in 2023 and a quarter are looking for AI assets to add to their portfolio.
  • International prospects are back on the table. After four years of declining expectations, buyer and seller interest in foreign deal partners rebounded in 2024. Among mid-market companies, 51% of sellers and 44% of buyers say they would consider international deals. PE firms’ interest in international investment opportunities increased year-over-year to 55% from 37%.
  • The 2024 U.S. election could be a driver for M&A. Uncertainty regarding the outcome of the upcoming U.S. election could support dealmaking in the first half of the year. Forty-one percent of mid-market companies say the pending election makes them more likely to pursue M&A in 2024, while just 25% say it makes them less likely to pursue a deal.

The survey was conducted among U.S.-based middle-market businesses ($50 million to $1 billion in revenue), as well as PE firms (fund size less than $1.5 billion) that are active in the acquisition and sale of U.S.-based companies in the same revenue range. Core business sectors included Citizens’ industry specialties of aerospace, defense and government services; business services; consumer; gaming, lodging and commercial real estate; healthcare; industrials; technology, media and telecommunications; and transportation and logistics, as well as other industries.

Business executives at 277 middle-market firms and 123 PE firms who are directly involved in decision-making related to M&A (owners/partners, CEOs, presidents and other C-level executives and directors) completed a phone or web-based survey between November and December 2023.

For more information on this year’s Citizens Middle Market M&A Outlook, please click here.

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