The business world is giddy and agog at the rip-roaring return of mergers and acquisitions. M&A is back! Just yesterday, two mega-deals worth $100 billion were announced. Some people are getting very, very rich. The deserving people, that is.
The stock market is booming and borrowing money is cheap and that means that big corporations are looking to BUY other big corporations or have MERGERS to make an even more enormous corporation. Why does the business world love M&A so much? Well, for Wall Street banks and law firms, the answer is simple: fees. They are paid staggering amounts of money to advise on these things. In just the two big deals announced yesterday, five advising banks "could reap as much as $316 million in fees for their work."
The bankers are being rewarded.
For the corporate executives, there is no better statement of DOING SOMETHING than entering into a BIG DEAL. These DEALMAKING CEOs are truly the kings of corporate America, notwithstanding the ones who totally destroy their own companies in the process.
The executives are being rewarded.
And then there are the real predators: the hedge funders, the "activist" investors, the sharks of finance who hunt vulnerable companies for a living. Bill Ackman (pictured) is a billionaire hedge fund manager who is so rich that he bought a $90 million condo and doesn't even live in it. Ackman was involved in one of yesterday's two big deals—he was working with a company called Valeant in an attempt to buy Allergan. In the end, though, Allergan sold to a different company, Actavis, for $66 billion. Sounds like Ackman lost, right? Not so! Because he had accumulated almost 10% of Allergan's stock while he was attempting to help Valeant buy it, Ackman will actually make a cool $2.2 billion on Allergan's sale to a different company. And all he had to do to earn that money was to fail in his task of acquiring the company for Valeant.
Bill Ackman, the most deserving, is the most rewarded of all.
Mergers and acquisitions churn up huge clouds of money, like an aquatic mammal digging for shellfish churns up sand. This money is then vacuumed up by various bankers, and advisers, and executives, and financiers. In the end, there are still companies doing whatever the companies did before.
An interesting piece of context here is that big corporate mergers tend to be bad for consumers, and that "Academic research suggests that few mergers add up to significantly more prosperous or successful companies and also that acquisitions during buyout booms, like the one we are in now, are more likely to fail than those made in other periods."
To the extent that mergers and acquisitions generate "value," that value tends to be reaped by a tiny clique of insiders, rather than by shareholders or society as a whole. Why is that? Because the American system rewards the deserving, and Bill Ackman is deserving of $2.2 billion for accumulating a stock position in a company that later sold to someone else. That is about as much money as 30,000 New York City public school teachers will make this year, combined.
If we are unhappy with the way that our society distributes its spoils, we are free to change the rules under which we live.