Keeping score: signs of life in the mid-market

July 13, 2009

The so-called “mid-market”, of mergers and acquisitions (M&A) valued at less than $500 million, is showing tentative signs of life.

On an initial reading, first-half deal data from Thomson Reuters suggests a market still struggling, with deals down 45.7 percent from a year earlier in dollar terms, to $213.3 billion. But on closer inspection, the second quarter reveals itself to have been busier than the first, and in fact home to a stronger rebound than the overall M&A market.

Granted, second-quarter M&A plunged 43 percent in dollar terms and 12 percent by number of deals, compared to the same period a year earlier. But compared to the first quarter, the number of deals actually rose 4 percent, while the dollar value of deals struck bounced 20 percent. (In the wider M&A market, the number of deals rose quarter-on-quarter by a similar amount, but dollar values fell 2 percent.)

So what’s going on? Corporate confidence may well have been lifted by big stock-market rallies starting in March, as the worst fears about the crisis have receded. And perhaps for bigger companies, the mid-market is where they can acquire bite-sized rivals without depending on the big bank loans that are now so hard to come by.

Alternatively, the light at the end of the tunnel may just be a gleam of summer sun: midmarket deals, measured by both deal numbers and dollar value, also bounced in the second quarters of both 2007 and 2008, compared to the first quarter of those years.

Among advisers, JPMorgan was the first half’s busiest mid-market adviser by value, UBS the busiest by number of deals, and Rothschild no.1 by estimated fees.

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