Clearly, 2020 was never going to be a normal year for M&A activity in the face of a global pandemic. Nevertheless, there have been some standout transactions. When it comes to deals worth $5 billion or more, activity has been decidedly lumpy this year, with a notable fallow period between March and September. Many of the major deals in the year's cohort speak to broader economic and industry trends—not all of them COVID-related. This list, while not comprehensive, looks at some of the key European themes at play over the past 12 months.

Last-minute deliveries

Takeaway.com secured its £6 billion (around $7.9 billion) acquisition of its rival Just Eat in January, following prolonged bidding with rival suitor Prosus that had begun the previous July with Takeaway's initial bid. The deal, which created the continent's largest food delivery company, got the final nod from regulators in April. It was a bitter loss for Prosus, which made three separate cash offers before it had to concede defeat. The Dutch-listed tech company was also beaten to the punch by Norway's Adevinta in July when it had tried to buy eBay's classifieds unit in what was eventually a $9 billion deal.

Payments giants

French payments company Worldline agreed to buy its rival Ingenico without too much fanfare in February. The €7.8 billion (around $9.5 billion) deal, which created the fourth-largest payment services provider in the world, was one of the last major European deals to be announced before the pandemic forced widespread lockdowns. The deal closed in October, and just a month later, Italian digital payments company Nexi, itself the product of several mergers, agreed to buys its Danish rival Nets in another €7.8 billion deal.

In need of a lift

Beleaguered German conglomerate Thyssenkrupp secured the year's biggest European private equity buyout in February when it shed its coveted elevator unit. A number of suitors were circling the asset but a consortium led by Advent International and Cinven eventually clinched a €17.2 billion deal. The deal predates the coronavirus surge, but the pandemic has expedited Thyssenkrupp's need to shed assets and pay down debt. More recently, the group was said to be in talks with Liberty Steel over the potential sale of its steel unit.

Green assets

KKR has long been a prolific investor in Europe. Its £4.2 billion acquisition of UK recycling and residual waste services provider Viridor from Pennon in March showed that even in 2020, big buyouts—though infrequent—were still on the table. Viridor is the exact kind of stable investment that can attract investment even in a crisis. The company has contracts with the local authority that last as long as 25 years. For that reason, it could be a long hold for KKR, which is now said to be raising another European buyout fund to target more opportunities in the region.

Chipping away

In September, Japan's SoftBank shed a sizable chunk of its tech empire when it sold UK chip designer Arm to US semiconductor giant Nvidia for $40 billion. SoftBank, which first bought the business for $32 billion in 2016, has been raising cash through asset sales since the implosion of co-working startup WeWork inflicted severe losses on its Vision Fund. SoftBank's stewardship of Arm had also been less than stellar; the company saw lackluster revenue growth during the holding period and was stripped of its internet-of-things unit, the Financial Times reported.

Trading floor deals

The sale of Borsa Italiana by the London Stock Exchange to rival Euronext for €4.3 billion harkened back to one of the biggest deals of 2019: LSE's $27 billion purchase of Blackstone-backed Refinitiv. Euronext, which owns several European stock exchanges, was not the only potential acquirer in the running. The deal is expected to aid the Refinitiv purchase by allying European regulator concerns regarding LSE's control over the bond market from Deutsche Boerse and Switzerland's Six, which had also submitted bids for Borsa Italiana.

A break with tradition

In November, 300-year-old insurer RSA Group, one of the UK's oldest listed companies, agreed to be split up in a £7.2 billion deal with Intact Financial and Tryg. The two buyers will take control of the company's international and Nordic operations, with Intact taking the former. They will jointly control RSA's Danish business. The deal marked Europe's largest in the insurance sector, which has logged several notable transactions this year. Just a month after RSA's announcement, Bain Capital agreed to pay £530 million for British insurer Liverpool Victoria Financial Services.

Information giants

The biggest merger announcement of the year didn't come until the 11th hour. S&P Global's planned purchase of its UK rival IHS Markit for $44 billion will bring together two of the world's largest financial information providers. If it gets the all-clear from regulators, it could create a significant rival to Bloomberg and Refinitiv. Financial information is yet another sector going through a spate of consolidation in recent years. IHS Markit itself was formed from a merger of IHS and Markit in 2016. Outside of Europe, in August, Intercontinental Exchange agreed to pay $11 billion for Thoma Bravo's mortgage data business Ellie Mae.

Shopping for a bargain

US retail giant Walmart has been looking to exit its UK subsidiary Asda for some time. It had originally planned to merge the supermarket with local rival Sainsbury's, but regulators blocked the deal last year, forcing Walmart to find a Plan B. Walmart temporarily put the sale on hold due to coronavirus, but eventually, several PE investors started circling the business, including Apollo Global Management and Lone Star. It was TDR Capital that eventually secured the chain in October for £6.8 billion, alongside billionaire brothers Mohsin Issa and Zuber Issa. Though until regulators give the green light, it's not a done deal.

Public and private

One of the last big deals of 2020 involved the world's largest security contractor by revenue, G4S. The UK company—which regularly courts controversy by dint of its numerous public sector contracts spanning from immigration services to running prisons—was the subject of a three-month bidding war between Canada's GardaWorld and US rival Allied Universal. The latter won out with its £3.8 billion offer. The deal, which is likely to get close regulatory scrutiny, is another example of a US investor taking a high-value UK target private. At the start of the year, Advent completed its £4 billion buyout of aerospace company Cobham.

Featured image courtesy of Just Eat Takeaway.com
 

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