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Mergers and Company Acquisitions

Mergers and acquisitions (M&A) are transactions in which the ownership of companies, other business organizations or their operating units are transferred or combined. As an aspect of strategic management, M&A can allow enterprises to grow, shrink, change the nature of their business or improve their competitive position.

From a legal point of view, a merger is a legal consolidation of two entities into one entity, whereas an acquisition occurs when one entity takes ownership of another entity's stock, equity interests or assets. From a commercial and economic point of view, both types of transactions generally result in the consolidation of assets and liabilities under one entity, and the distinction between a "merger" and an "acquisition" is less clear.

A transaction legally structured as a merger may have the effect of placing one party's business under the indirect ownership of the other party's shareholders, while a transaction legally structured as an acquisition may give each party's shareholders partial ownership and control of the combined enterprise. A deal may be euphemistically called a "merger of equals" if both CEOs agree that joining together is in the best interest of both of their companies, while when the deal is unfriendly (that is, when the management of the target company opposes the deal) it may be regarded as an "acquisition".

Mergers and acquisitions (M&As) is a phrase used to describe a host of financial activities in which companies are bought and sold. In an acquisition one party buys another by acquiring all of its assets. The acquired entity ceases to exist as a corporate body, but the buyer sometimes retains the name of the acquired company, indeed may use it as its own name. In a merger a new entity is created from the assets of two companies; new stock is issued. Mergers are more common when the parties have similar size and power. Sometimes acquisitions are labeled "mergers" because "being acquired" carries a negative connotation (like "being eaten"); a merger suggests mutuality. M&A activity involves both privately held and publicly traded companies; acquisitions may be friendly (both entities are willing) or may be hostile (the buyer is opposed by the management of the acquisition target).


M&A activity is invariably explained as creating greater stockholder value. Stockholder interests are, indeed, central, because these transactions must have the approval of a majority of stockholders, and stockholders are unlikely to vote their shares in favor of a sale, purchase, or merger unless they believe that they will benefit. The real motivation behind M&A activity, however, is almost always a mixture in which financial, structural, institutional, and even personal aims are present. Companies make acquisitions to grow more rapidly, to gain control over their raw materials, to obtain new technology, to pump up their stock, to take advantage of weaknesses in others, to diversify, etc.

A major element of M&A activity in hostile acquisitions is resistance to being acquired. It is motivated by the management's fear of losing control, distrust of the buyer's motivation, disagreement with the buyer's methods and strategy, etc. Frequently management resists an acquisition although their stockholders would clearly benefit; thus they try to persuade the stockholders that "in the long run" the stockholders will suffer. Resisting managements are frequently correct—but often lose because stockholders look at the bird in the hand.

Motivations for selling a company are equally complex. Retiring founders of small businesses sell companies to realize the business's cash value after a life-time of work. Companies projecting failure sell before the failure is actually knocking on the door. Companies reach the limit of their resources, financial or technical, and see great benefit in joining a larger company able to fund growth and to enhance their own art by major engineering inputs. In the first two cases the motives are liquidity and fear of bankruptcy respectively. The third case is mixed, with structural, institutional, and opportunistic motives leading to a sale. In periods of M&A frenzy (common in expansionary periods) a company may also face an offer it just can't refuse.