Merger Wave: Achiever Essays

The American economy experienced two great takeover waves in the postwar period, first in the 1960s and the second in the 1980s. Both waves had a deep affect on the structure of corporate America. The main trend in the ’60s was diversification and conglomeration. In contrast the 1980s takeover reversed the previous process and brought US corporations back to specialization. In this respects, the last thirty years were a roundtrip for corporate America. This paper is an overview of the salient features of the two takeover waves.


  • 1 1.1 The 1960’s Conglomerate Merger Wave
  • 2 1.2 The 1980’s Merger Wave
  • 3 2 Merger Motives
  • 4 2.1 Managerial Motives
  • 5 2.2 Legal Motives
  • 6 2.3 Wealth Gains And Losses
  • 7 2.4 Value of Diversification
  • 8 2.5 Financial & Economic Rationale
  • 9 3 Conclusion & Discussion

1.1 The 1960’s Conglomerate Merger Wave

The merger wave of the 1960s was the major since the turn of the century (Stigler, 1968). A typical characteristic of the 1960s transaction was a friendly acquisition, frequently for stock, of a smaller private or public firm which was outside the acquiring firms main line of business. During this period unrelated diversification was widespread among the large companies. Rumelt (1974) has reported that the fraction of single business companies in the Fortune 500 decreased from 22.8% in 1959 to 14.8% in 1969. Further, the portion of conglomerates with no dominant businesses increased to 18.7% from 7.3%. There was also a considerable move to diversification among companies that retained their core business. The driving force behind the 1960s wave was high valuations of company stocks and large corporate cash flows. However the management was unwilling to pay out the high cash flows as dividends, and on the other hand able to issue equity at attractive terms therefore, turned their attention to acquisitions (Donaldsoni. 1984).Dividends were considered as a complete waste, and acquisitions as a very attractive way to conserve corporate wealth. There are two sets of arguments used to explain why companies diversify. The first set argues that firms diversify to increase shareholder wealth. A number of authors have discussed different aspects of diversification that can potentially raise shareholder wealth. Williamson (1970), suggest that firms diversify to beat imperfections in external capital markets. Through diversification, managers create internal capital markets, which are less prone to asymmetric information problems. Lewellen (1971), argues that conglomerates can carry on higher levels of debt since corporate diversification reduces earnings variability. if conglomerate firms are more valuable than companies operating in a single industry If the tax shields of debt increase. Shleifer and Vishny (1992), state that conglomerates may have a higher debt capacity since they can sell assets in those industries that suffer the least from liquidity problems in bad states of the world. Finally, Teece (1980) argues that diversification leads to economics of scale. The second set of arguments states diversification as a product of the agency problems between shareholder and managers. Amihud and Lev (1981) argue that managers follow a diversification strategy to protect the value of their human capital. However, Jensen (1986) suggests that companies diversify to increase the private benefits of managers. Similarly, Shleifer and Vishny (1989) suggest that managers diversify because they are better at managing assets in other industries. Thus, diversifying will make skills more indispensable to the firm.

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1.2 The 1980’s Merger Wave

Form a longer historical perspective, Golbe and White (1988) presented time series evidence of U.S. takeover activity from the late 1800s to the mid-1980s. Their findings have suggested that takeover activity above 2 to 3 percent of GDP is unusual. However, the greatest level of merger activity occurred around 1980s, at roughly 10 percent of GNP. By this measure, takeover activity in the 1980s is historically high. The size of the average target in the 1980s had increased extremely from the modest level of the ’60s. By 1989 28%, of Fortune 500 companies were acquired and many transactions, particularly the large ones, were hostile. Further the medium of exchange in takeovers was cash rather than stock, they were characterized by heavy use of leverage. Firms were purchased by other firms by leveraged takeovers by borrowing rather than by issuing new stock or using solely cash on hand. Other firms restructured themselves, borrowing to repurchase their own shares. The ’80s was also characterized by latest forms of control changes, which included ‘bustup’ takeovers. Bustup takeovers involved the sell off of a substantial fraction of the target’s assets to other firms. (Bhagat, Shleifer, and Vishny, 1990; Kaplan, 1997).

2 Merger Motives

The following sections will explain the motive behind the two merger waves.

2.1 Managerial Motives

Agency theory predicts that unless managers are strictly monitored by large block of shareholders they will certainly act out of self-interest. Amihud and Lev (1981) have provided proof that unless closely monitored by large block shareholders managers will attempt to reduce their employment risk through diversification. Lane et al.(1998) in this study have reexamined Amihud and Lev findings about agency theory Using a sample of 309 US firms that diversified between 1962 & 1970, from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Statistical Report on Mergers and Acquisitions (1976). This study falls in the third broad category[1] of agency studies. However this analysis only examines the strategic behaviors of managers when they are not under siege and are also not in a situation, in which their interests are clearly in conflict with those of shareholders. Specifically, firms without large block shareholders are expected to engage in more unrelated acquisitions and show higher levels of diversification than firms with large block shareholders (Jensen and Meckling (1976)) Using Multiple Regression, the study found no evidence for the standard agency theory predictions that management controlled firms are linked with strategically lower levels of diversification and lower levels of returns than are firms with large block shareholders. It was found that Ownership structure and diversification are largely independent constructs. Thus, managers may be are worthy of more trust and autonomy than what the agency theorists have prearranged for them. Rather than seeking to restrict managerial discretion through extreme oversight, a more balanced approach by principals is needed. Some safeguards are essential as conflicts of interests between managers and shareholders do arise in certain situations, therefore, the assumption that such conflicts dominate the day-to-day management is not realistic. Matsusaka,(1993) takes a deep look at the astonishingly high pre-merger profit rates of target companies during the conglomerate merger wave. The main goal of the study is to assess how important was “managerial discipline” as a takeover motive. The analysis uses an extensive data set of 806 manufacturing sector acquisitions that took place in 1968, 1971 and 1974. The sample was collected from New York Stock Exchange listing statements. Sample of 609 observations was taken from 1968, 117 from 1971, and 129 from 1974. The results did not differ in any vital way by year, so observations from the three periods were pooled. Because antitrust enforcement was strict in the late 1960s and early 1970s, it was safely assumed that the sample mergers were not motivated to increase market power Ravenscraft and Scherer (1987). This allowed the investigation to focus on a narrow set of merger motives. Profitability[2] throughout the study was measured as a rate of return on assets. The theory identified two basic characteristics of mergers motivated to discipline target management. First it wsa observed that the target was underperforming its industry and the only reason to discipline the managers was that they were not maximizing profit. It could be because of incompetence that they were pursuing their own objectives. The second, the target company had publicly traded stock and the only posibility to discipline management was by electing an appropriate board of directors. In this situation a takeover was necessary to effect a change as the diffused stock ownership resulted in free-rider problems. Owners can remove bad managers of privately owned firms, as they are closely held. The problem occurs in large publicly traded firms with diffuse ownership. The statistical results revealed that both public and private targets had extremely high profit rates prior to acquisition compared to their size classes and industries. Therefore, takeovers were not motivated to discipline target managers during the conglomerate merger wave. The second finding of the study is that public targets were not as particularly profitable as private targets. It was also found that the largest public targets had the lowest profit rates. A credible interpretation of the evidence is that managerial discipline may have been significant for just a small set of acquisitions that involved large publicly-traded targets. Matsusaka (1993) leaves the bigger question unexplained. Why buyers time and again sought high profit targets during the merger wave. There is a simple clarification, that high quality assets are generally favored to low quality assets, as high quality assets are more expensive. In addition to explaining why firms seek high-profit targets, an asset complementarity theory implies that firms tend to divest their low-profit divisions Palmer and Barber (2001) have determined the factors that led large firms to participate in the1960s wave. The theoretical approach, of the study conceptualizes corporate elites (managers and directors) as actors. However it is assumed that these actors have interests which have arisen from positions held in organizational and institutional environments, and from multidimensional social class structure. Often Acquisitions are deviant and innovative ways by which corporate these elites can increase their status and wealth. Corporate elite diversify to the extent that their place in the class structure provides them with the capacity and interest to augment their wealth and status in this way. The authors have examined how the firm’s top directors and managers class position influenced its tendency to employ diversification in the 1 960s. More specifically the following arguments on social status[3] have been tested empirically. Firstly, “Firms run by top managers who attended an exclusive secondary school or whose family was listed in a metropolitan social register were less likely than other firms to complete diversifying acquisitions in the 1960s.” Secondly, ” Firms run by top managers who were Jewish were more likely than other firms to complete diversifying acquisitions in the 1 960s.” Thirdly, “Firms run by top managers situated in the South or west were more likely than other firms to complete diversifying acquisitions in the 1960s.” The study selected a sample of the largest 461 publicly traded U.S. industrial corporations from the Federal Trade Commission’s Statistical Report on Mergers and Acquisitions (1976), between January 1, 1963, and December 31, 1968. This particular time period was chosen because as the merger wave took off at the end of 1962 and crested in 1968. The results of the study were found through count and binary regression models. The findings of the study are consistent with that of Zeitlin (1974). According to him top managers’ capacities and interests are shaped by their social class position. Corporate elite members differ in their social class position. It is this variation that influences the behavior of the firms they command. The results indicate that social club memberships and upper-class background influenced a firm’s propensity to complete diversifying acquisitions in the 1960s. Network embeddedness and status influenced acquisition likelihood in opposite directions. Corporations that were run by chief executives who were central in social networks but marginal with respect to status were more likely than other firms to complete diversifying acquisitions in the 1960s. Therefore, individuals with high status had small interest in adopting innovation. Corporate elites can inhibit the spread of an innovation when it threatens their interests. As observed by Hayes and Taussig (1967), “One must never underestimate the moral suasion that the business and financial communities can bring to bear on those who engage in practices of which they disapprove.” In this respect, the analysis provides additional evidence that intraclass conflict shaped corporate behavior during the 1960s merger wave. It seemed that in the 1960s, it was not concentrated ownership but, ownership in the hands of capitalist families that reduced a firm’s tendency to complete diversifying acquisitions. Further, as predicted by agency theory , concentrated ownership would lower acquisition rates most when in the hands of the CEO or other top managers, as opposed to outsiders, However it was found the reverse to be the case. Overall, there was very little support for any of the agency theory in the 1960s merger wave. Further, the results provided no support for several of the class-theory hypotheses. Firms headquartered in the South or West run or by Jewish CEOs did not have a greater propensity to complete diversifying acquisitions during the 1960s. The process of diversification of American firms reached its height during the merger wave of the late 1960s. Matsusaka(1993)evaluated the 1960s merger wave. In an attempt to do so the author has proposed a number of explanations that drove managers to diversify during the conglomerate merger wave. There are reasons to suspect that managers may have pursued a diversification strategy even when it impaired the shareholder. They may have entered new lines of business to protect their organization-specific human capital or establish themselves. On the other hand, they may have been pursuing size as an end and because of strict antitrust opposition to horizontal and vertical mergers they had to expand by buying into unrelated industries. The study has evaluated whether manager were diversifying for their own advantage or in the interest of shareholders returns .To do so the author inspected the effect of diversification on the value of his firm’s equity. Thus, if the value of a firm declined upon announcement of an acquisition, then its management was not acting to maximize shareholder wealth. One explanation for conglomeration stated in the study, stems from Managerial-Discipline theory. Firstly, Firms were taken over to discipline or replace their bad managers ie “Managerial-Discipline”. Secondly, “Managerial Synergy” theory states that the bidder management wanted to work with target management, not replace it. In this case the acquirer management believed that the target management would complement to their skills. Therefore firm that had Managerial-discipline problem were likely to have had low profits, and on the other hand managerial-synergy targets were likely to have had high profits. Another explanation is that buyers were motivated by earnings-per- share (EPS) manipulation. This explanation states that conglomerates have a high price-earnings ratio (P/E). [4] Therefore the bidder management was bootstrapping, by buying firms with low P/Es. Construction of the dataset began with a list of mergers from the sample of 1968, 1971 and 1974 .The sample was identified from the takeovers from New York Stock Exchange listing statements and the results were presented through regression. The announcement-period return to the bidders’ shareholders was measured through “dollar return,” [5] .Regression of the dollar-return measure found that the return to a diversification acquisition was significantly positive. On average their shareholders enjoyed an $11.0 million value increase in value when bidders made a diversification acquisition,. This rejects the hypothesis that diversification hurt shareholders and is thus inconsistent with the idea that diversification was driven by managerial objectives. On the other hand, bidders who made related acquisitions cost their shareholders $6.4 million on average. Thus, the hypothesis that the market’s reaction was the same to related acquisitions and diversification is rejected, suggesting that there was a market “premium” to diversification. Using descriptive statistical summaries it was found that both diversifying and horizontal buyers preferred to buy firms that were profitable. For both type of acquisitions the average operating profit was more than 5% in excess of the target’s industry average. Therefore fame of high-profit targets argues against the importance of a managerial-discipline motive for both types of acquisition and in favor of a managerial-synergy motive. This is because Managerial-discipline takeovers should have been directed at low-profit firms, whose profitability needed improved. The motive was Managerial-synergy as the targets were takeovers were high- profit firms, this is because synergy-motivated managers were looking for good partners Matsusaka(1993). Another factor linked to the managerial theories is whether or not the target’s management was retained.Top management is said to have been “retained” if it meet the following criteria. Firstly It was reported in the Wall Street Journal that the acquired firm’s management would continue to operate under the new management. Secondly, it was indicated in the buyer’s listing statement that the target’s management would be retained. Lastly, when the merger took place at least one of the top three executives of the target firm was still managing the firm three years later from when the merger took place. According to the above mentioned definitions, 61.8% of the managers in the sample were retained and only 3.5% of the acquisitions fell in the “Replaced” category. The main finding is that buyers earned significantly positive announcement-period returns during the conglomerate merger wave when they made diversifying acquisitions. The hypothesis that conglomerates were driven by empire building or some other managerial objective can be rejected because such explanations imply value decreases to unrelated acquisitions. Another explanation of the conglomerate merger wave is that mergers were driven by an accounting trick rather than expected efficiencies. Therefore, investors watched EPS; when the EPS went up they bid up the price of the stock. According to this argument, Conglomerates, tended to buy companies with lower P/E ratios than their own in order to increase their EPS and boost their stock prices. There was no evidence that firms earned positive returns which inflated EPS in this way. The study indicated that early conglomerators earned significantly positive returns simply because they were first. They may have gained some rents to organizational innovation. Possibly the men who built the first conglomerates had a unique talent for diversification, which the market rewarded. Hubbard, & Palia (1999), have examined the likelihood that internal capital markets were formed to alleviate the information costs associated with the less well-developed external capital markets of the time; that is, whether they were expected to create value by the external capital markets in the 1960s.In this paper, the authors have inspected a form of cross-subsidization that occurs when a financially unconstrained bidding firm takes over a financially constrained target firm and as a result forms an internal capital market.The study examined whether the external capital markets expected that the formation of internal capital markets in the 1960s were value-maximizing for the bidding firm. However, existing research has argued that internal capital markets can be value-enhancing. As argued by Geneen(1997), the financing and budgeting expertise that a firm possesses is not necessarily related to its degree of diversification. Accordingly, the internal capital market hypothesis for all acquisitions is tested. The study also tests the “bootstrapping” explanation for conglomeration in the 1960s, which takes place when firms with a high price-earnings ratio (P/E) took over low P/E target firms and fooled the stock market with an increased combined earnings-per-share. In the 1960s, external capital markets were less developed in terms of company-specific information production than in later years. The authors have classified “company-specific information” into two general categories.