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Opinion

Fortress bid for Morrisons shows efficiency in exuberant M&A

Private equity is the biggest driver of what may be a record year for M&A and has led to a pushback from public shareholders that could raise prices.

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For anyone who grew up in the north of England, Morrisons has always been somewhat iconic. Any Saturday morning spent people-watching over a cooked breakfast in the café at one of its bigger stores would reveal humanity in all its wonderous variety: from the radiant to the grotesque.

But it still comes as a surprise to find the UK’s fourth largest supermarket chain at the centre of the powerful currents now driving an extraordinary wave of M&A that is captivating corporate financiers, public market investors, private-equity sponsors, lawyers, bankers, analysts and rating agencies.

Global M&A in the first half of this year came in at just under $3 trillion, a record for any first half. The US has never been busier. The $930 billion of deals announced in Europe, the Middle East and Africa puts the region on track for its second-highest ever year, behind the all-time record of 2007 at the peak of the leveraged buy-out boom.

Private equity is back.

Sponsors have been a big driver of the near doubling of European M&A compared with the first half of 2020, and account for 38% of the six-month volume, up from an average of 27% during the first half of each year from 2018 to 2020.

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