That doesn't mean there won't be M&A activity this year. A good many companies run the risk that their businesses will be seriously impacted if a key supplier, for instance, goes out of business. Better to acquire that supplier than see it disappear. Banks could find that acquiring another bank improves their credit issues. Cash rich technology companies now have good opportunities to buy smaller companies, without having to load up on debt.
M&A can bolster companies and make them stronger, but it can also have other consequences, sometimes unintended, such as unhappy changes to long-loved products. (Click here to read: From cookies to cars, corporate takeovers redefine American products).
Here, we take a look at ten headline-making M&A transactions from around the world to see who won, who lost, and who turned out to be lucky that their prized target escaped a takeover.
Rio Tinto - BHP Billiton
BHP Billiton (BHP) has been trying to acquire Rio Tinto (RTP) for years, eventually launching a hostile takeover valuing the company at nearly $150 billion. While fighting the offer from BHP, Rio Tinto was active on its own front, buying Canadian aluminum producer Alcan for $38 billion. In the fall of 2008, BHP withdrew its offer as the global demand for metals, and metal prices, fell substantially. Rio Tinto's public market capitalization is now $53 billion.
Dow Jones - News Corp.
Rupert Murdoch stunned the media world with News Corp.'s (NWS) unsolicited $5 billion bid for Dow Jones, publisher of the Wall Street Journal. The Bancroft family, which controlled Dow Jones, was initially hesitant to sell -- but eventually the family concluded the 70 percent premium and pledge to maintain journalistic integrity were sufficient. Soon after acquiring Dow Jones, News Corp. -- like so many other newspaper buyers of late -- learned an expensive lesson; the company's results included a $3.6 billion charge to goodwill for its Newspapers and Information Services segment.
P&G's Folgers bought by J.M. Smucker
J.M. Smucker (SJM) bought the Folgers coffee division from Procter & Gamble (PG) for $3.3 billion in stock last summer, adding a line of coffee products -- including the Dunkin' Donuts retail license -- to its existing stable of Jif peanut butter and Crisco, among others. In its first full quarter, new coffee sales contributed $150 million in segment profit on extremely healthy margins, helping Smucker's to boost earnings per share by 19 percent.
Rohm & Haas - Dow Chemical
In July 2008, Dow Chemical (DOW) offered to buy specialty chemical maker Rohm & Haas for $78 per share, for a total of $15 billion. Then, the global economy rapidly deteriorated and financing dried up, leaving Dow Chemical short on cash and looking to walk away from the deal. Rohm sued and Dow eventually obtained financing from Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A, BRK.B) and subprime short-selling billionaire John Paulson's Paulson & Co. hedge fund. Dow's results have thus far not included the acquisition, but Rohm & Haas' sales were down 29 percent year-over-year going into the April 1 closing date.
Caremark - CVS
Drug store chain CVS (CVS) completed a nearly $27 billion merger with prescription benefit manager Caremark in 2007, creating the country's largest buyer of pharmaceuticals; CVS followed up by purchasing West Coast chain Longs Drug Stores in 2008 for nearly $3 billion. The Caremark acquisition has been the main driver behind CVS' sales doubling from $43 billion in 2006 to $87 billion in 2008, as Pharmacy Services grew from under 10 percent of sales in 2006 to 50 percent in 2008.
DoubleClick - Google
Google's (GOOG) $3.1 billion acquisition of online advertiser DoubleClick in early 2007 allowed the search giant to branch out beyond its traditional text link ads and into the market for display-based banners. The move was a direct assault into Yahoo's (YHOO) traditional area of strength. Many speculated the price paid for DoubleClick was as much a function of its value to Google as a desire to keep the company out of Microsoft's (MSFT) hands. It took regulators in the U.S. and Europe nearly a year to sign-off on the deal, but since its March 2008 close, shares of Google are essentially flat, whereas shares of Yahoo are down almost 50 percent.
ABN Amro - Royal Bank of Scotland
The Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) teamed with Spain's Banco Santander and Belgium's Fortis Bank to acquire Dutch bank ABN AMRO, which was then divided among the three buyers. The purchase -- for nearly $100 billion -- ended a bidding war with Barclay's (BCS), in what may be one of the luckier non-deals of the last buyout wave. The British government ended up injecting $64 billion of capital into the Royal Bank of Scotland and became the company's majority shareholder, as losses on the deal sustained during the financial crisis would have made the bank insolvent otherwise. Similarly, the Dutch government took control of Fortis' Dutch operations inherited from ABN AMRO.
Gerber bought by Nestle from Novartis
In 2007, drug maker Novartis (NVS) divested its Gerber Products subsidiary to Swiss food company Nestle for $5.5 billion. Gerber is the leader in baby food and baby product sales, and the "Gerber Baby" brand now extends around the world from its humble beginnings in a Michigan kitchen. For 2008, Nestle reported that earnings before interest and taxes, in the segment Gerber was added to, were up 11 percent year-over-year.
GM's divestiture of Opel
German automotive company Opel has been a subsidiary of General Motors since the original Great Depression, but as the parent company headed into bankruptcy-protected reorganization, Opel became destined for new ownership. Opel has long been GM's leading brand in mainland Europe, thanks to a small car line-up that many believe GM was missing in the United States. Although a sale has not been completed yet, speculation has emerged that Chinese automaker Beijing Automotive Industry Holding is a leading contender along with auto parts supplier Magna.
GM's divestiture of Hummer
No car better symbolizes the excesses brought on by cheap oil and gas than the Hummer. Likewise, the Hummer is a perfect representation of the poor product investments made by GM which contributed to the company's present state. No known domestic or European buyer has emerged for the brand, although reported interest from a Chinese buyer has surfaced. Any acquirer hoping to bring the brand back into North America faces extensive branding issues associated with Hummer's traditionally poor mileage ratings, which has made disposing of the Hummer name a challenge.