Corporate carve-outs increasing in Europe, driven by pressure from activist investors
Corporate divestment activity of European assets is projected to increase for the fourth year running, according the findings of AURELIUS Equity Opportunities’ (“AURELIUS”) annual corporate carve-out survey, with shareholder activism expected to contribute to the rise in activity.
The survey, which canvassed the opinions of AURELIUS’ corporate and advisory contacts on the volume and drivers of divestment activity of European non-core assets in 2019, indicated that the number of Asian buyers of these assets will be lower in 2019, compared to last year. In contrast, North American buyers of such assets are expected to be higher.
Volume of corporates selling non-core European assets expected to increase in 2019
– 64% of respondents expect the volume of corporates looking to divest of European assets to increase in 2019, the fourth year in a row such a prediction has been made. Dirk Markus, CEO of AURELIUS said: “It’s clear from the results of our survey that corporate carve-outs have become a prominent part of the M&A landscape in Europe. This is a real endorsement of the way in which firms are embracing divestment as a form of corporate best practice and a natural part of the business lifecycle. By continually reviewing their existing portfolios and carving out units that are under-performing or that no longer fit into their overall strategy, corporates can optimise their businesses and free up capital for investment into core growth areas.”
Activist investors contributing to increase in European carve-out activity
– 80% of survey respondents think activist investors are playing a bigger role in driving the disposal of European non-core assets. The majority of participants (38%) identified weak financial performance of a corporate’s core business as the key driver behind the this increased activist intervention.
Tristan Nagler, UK Managing Director of AURELIUS, commented: “Activist investors are more influential than they have ever been, as the level of capital being invested in and deployed by their strategies reaches an all-time high. Growing levels of business under-performance, prompted by a challenging macroeconomic backdrop, have acted as a trigger for activists, who are placing increasing pressure on management teams to deliver shareholder returns. In response, Boards are taking a more proactive approach to portfolio management, reviewing their strategy and business mix on an ongoing basis to identify and divest of non-core or under-performing assets. This enables them to strengthen their balance sheet and present a more compelling value story to investors.
“Unilever, Whitbread and Rolls Royce are just three examples of corporates that have been driven to sell non-core business units as a result of activist pressure in the last year.”
Volume of Asian acquisitions of non-core assets in Europe expected to fall
– Only 3% of respondents expect Asian acquirers to be the most active buyers of non-core European assets, down from 22% of respondents in 2018.
– Meanwhile, the percentage of respondents that expect North American acquirers to be the most active buyers of these assets increased from 8% in 2018 to 18% in 2019. Dirk Markus added: “The findings of our survey indicate a shift in the location of buyers looking to acquire non-core European assets, which in itself is reflective of wider developments and attitudes across the global investment landscape. Escalating political and economic friction between Europe and China, for example, has resulted in a rising protectionist agenda against Asian investment over the past two years, which has greatly impacted Eastern deal making on the continent.
“In contrast, Europe is becoming an ever more attractive hunting ground for North American buyers, particularly as their own markets become increasingly competitive and expensive. Buoyed by economic prosperity at home, US and Canadian investors are continuing to seek out investment opportunities in Europe, where currency weaknesses in the Euro and Pound have contributed to the availability of high-quality assets at bargain prices.”