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M&A Stays High as Asset Managers Take ‘Aggressive Measures’ to Survive

PricewaterhouseCoopers says deal making in asset management is off to a “robust” start in 2019, led by Brookfield’s purchase of a majority stake in Oaktree Capital.

Three months into 2019, asset and wealth management firms have announced $12.2 billion of deals in what is shaping up to be a “significant year” for mergers and acquisitions, according to a new report form PricewaterhouseCoopers.

That $12.2 billion — heavily boosted by Brookfield Asset Management’s estimated $4.7 billion purchase of a majority stake in Oaktree Capital Management, a deal which PwC said was valued at $11.7 billion including assumed debt — represents the highest amount spent on M&A activity in at least two years. It follows strong deal activity in the fourth quarter, when 54 transactions were recorded.

Although deal volume declined at the start of 2019, the 45 transactions announced before April represented a significant increase in M&A activity compared to the first quarters of 2018 and 2017, when there were 36 deals and 41 deals, respectively.

In the PwC report, the firm said it expected 2019 to become “another significant year for deals in asset and wealth management.”

“Asset managers are taking aggressive measures to overcome headwinds such as the top-line impact from the rise of passive investing and industry-wide pressures on both margins and productivity,” the report stated. “Publicly traded asset managers have an advantage in executing large scale deals using stock to engineer such transactions, giving them an edge in transformative M&A.”

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Although the Brookfield-Oaktree deal meant alternatives firms led M&A activity by value, wealth managers were by far the most active in terms of deal volume. Wealth management firms accounted for 28 of the quarter’s transactions, or 62 percent of the total. Traditional asset management firms made up about 18 percent of M&A deals, while alternatives firms accounted for 13 percent of announced transactions.

Further M&A activity is likely in the coming months based on the responses from chief executive officers of asset and wealth management firms surveyed by PwC. According to the survey, 29 percent expected to enter into a merger in the coming year, while 42 percent were seeking a strategic alliance or joint venture.

“Some firms aim to fill gaps in their product line, gain new distribution capabilities, or expand their geographical reach,” the report stated. “Other firms seek to partner with a technology provider that will upgrade their systems and help keep pace with the spread of artificial intelligence and big data.”

Headwinds that could impede M&A activity globally, according to PwC, include rising interest rates, quantitative tightening, trade tensions between the U.S. and China, Brexit, and a possible slowdown in global growth.

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