Europe boasts a rich and varied economic landscape, encompassing diverse and dynamic markets, each with distinct features. 

Due to a multitude of reasons, the continent’s growth rate  typically trails behind that of the USA. Despite these “headwinds”, the M&A landscape in Europe has experienced a remarkable surge over the past two decades, marked by a steady upswing in deal flows across most countries.

This blog post will shed light on Europe’s mergers and acquisitions landscape by exploring its M&A activity, including total deal flows, median valuation, multiples, and more.

Table of Contents

I. Total deal volumes

II. Cross-border vs. domestic M&A

III. Strategic vs. financial acquisitions

IV. M&A activity across sectors

V. Deal value

VI. Valuation multiples

The M&A landscape in Europe

This section provides an in-depth analysis of merger and acquisition activity across Europe. Examined areas include deal volumes, cross-border investments, investor types, top sectors, median deal sizes, and valuation multiples.

Total deal volumes

Despite periodic setbacks, M&A in Europe has grown steadily over the past 20 years at a 21.2% compound annual rate. The 2008 financial crisis and the 2020 pandemic temporarily slowed dealmaking, but activity rebounded quickly after each downturn. Notably, despite facing hurdles like rising interest rates, supply chain disruptions, and surging energy costs, total European deal flow peaked in 2022.

M&A deals in Europe between 2003 to 2022

While not all European economies attracted the same level of M&A investment, the continent’s diversity drove regional flows and high aggregate growth. Central and Eastern Europe saw remarkably rapid expansion, although total deal volumes remain highest in major Western economies like the UK, Germany, and France. 

Total M&A deals in Europe between 2003 to 2022 at country level

Cross-border vs. domestic M&A

While domestic deals dominated European M&A, cross-border activity picked up over the second half of the analyzed period. Cross-border transactions accounted for 47% of total deal volume in 2022, up from 37% in 2003. Overall, cross-border deals averaged 40% of total M&A transactions over the 20 years period. 

The inclination towards cross-border M&A is fuelled by an eagerness for geographic expansion and sectoral diversity amongst acquirers and investors. Their willingness to look across borders for value and build regional connections gives European dealmaking a competitive advantage.

Cross-border acquisitions in Europe between 2003 to 2022

Next, we analyzed the level of cross-border vs. domestic activity amongst the top 15 nations with the most recorded deals between 2003 and 2022. Generally, in nations with lower aggregate deal flow, the proportion of cross-border to total M&A rises, barring exceptions like Germany and Finland.

Large economies, like the UK and most Western European countries,witness higher overall deal volumes due to numerous domestic acquisitive companies, resulting in more domestic M&A. On the other hand, smaller countries, limited in domestic deal potential, rely heavily on attracting foreign acquirers.

Cross-border acquisitions in Europe between 2003 to 2022 for countries with most M&A activity

Our analysis extends to the origin of the most active foreign acquirers in Europe and the sectors attracting them. While most cross-border deals involve European buyers, acquirers from the US and Canada also made it into the Top 10 by the aggregate value of deal count. 

North American acquirers, in particular, are poised to drive further cross-border expansion in Europe, spurred by shared language, business practices, and entrepreneurial DNA. While regional partnerships will continue within Europe, openness to diverse foreign buyers is critical to maximizing deal potential on the global stage.

In sector terms, software, consumer goods, industrials, healthcare, and financials draw the most foreign interest. With European nations emerging as tech hubs, software, and related sectors will likely remain top targets.

Most active countries in cross-border acquisitions in Europe, between 2003 to 2022

Strategic vs. financial acquisitions

During the first half of the analysis period, strategic buyers dominated acquisitions, surpassing financial buyers which included private equity and venture capital firms. Factors contributing to this trend include less developed markets, a limited number of startups and companies with operational models suitable for PE investments, and the relatively lower appeal and familiarity of alternative investments.

In the second half of the analyzed period, however, particularly in recent years, financial buyer activity increased significantly and accounted for one-third of total deals since 2019. This transformation can be attributed to various developments, including advancements in financial markets, growth of the technology sector, and financial investors accumulating substantial amounts of dry powder.

Strategic vs financial acquisitions in Europe between 2003 to 2022

Moving forward, our analysis shifted to a country-level examination to identify markets exhibiting the highest percentage of financial buyers. To ensure robust findings, we focused on the top 15 countries, excluding those with a total deal count below 500 throughout the analyzed two-decade period. Alongside notable economies like France, Germany, and the UK, substantial attention from financial buyers was directed towards smaller economies such as Luxemburg, Iceland, Estonia, and Lithuania.

Strategic vs. financial acquisitions in Europe between 2003 to 2022 - top countries in financial acquisitions

M&A activity across sectors

When examining sector diversification, we uncovered a robust and balanced mix, with no single sector accounting for more than 12% of the total deal flows. Notably, the consumer sector, encompassing food, beverages, and retail, along with the industrial and software industries, emerged as frontrunners that collectively represented one-third of total deals. 

Additionally, we observed vigorous activity within the financial and medical sectors. The energy sector also experienced a significant boost in recent years, propelled by an ongoing transition towards renewable energy across European countries.

Total M&A deals by sector in Europe, between 2003 to 2022

A deeper analysis into the technology sector showcased the software sector as a clear winner in deal volumes, displaying a remarkable ascent from 113 deals in 2003 to a staggering 3,198 deals by the end of 2022.

We also observed a notable surge in eCommerce deals until recently. However, worsening macroeconomic conditions and the end of the work-from-home era influenced investor sentiment, causing eCommerce companies to fall out of favor in 2022.

M&A activity within tech in Europe, 2003 to 2022

Deal value

The median deal value across Europe experienced a significant transformation over the last 20 years. Following the 2008 Global Financial Crisis, the median deal value gradually declined yearly, with a few exceptions. In 2020, the pandemic halted M&A activity in the first half of the year, dropping the median deal value to a mere EUR 10.0M.

Just a year later, however, it skyrocketed by more than double to EUR 21.8 million, as dealmaking activity thrived across most sectors under the favorable risk-on environment. Despite challenging macroeconomic conditions in 2022, including central banks adopting a more cautious approach to curb inflation, the median deal value continued its ascent, currently standing at EUR 27.4 million, well above pre-pandemic levels.

Median deal values in Europe between 2003 to 2022

Valuation multiples

Over the decades, both revenue and EBITDA multiples exhibited substantial growth, surpassing their 2003 values by the end of 2022. However, the trajectory wasn’t consistently upward, particularly for the EBITDA multiple, which experienced considerable fluctuations throughout the 20 years.

After a steady rise between 2003 and 2007, the EBITDA multiple plummeted  by 3.5x in 2009 as the Global Financial Crisis unfolded. Following that, the median EBITDA multiple in Europe was characterized by a slow-paced rise with occasional setbacks. The last two years witnessed another noteworthy surge due to fiscal and monetary stimulus, driving investor optimism and valuation to unprecedented levels.

Similarly, the median revenue multiple followed a similar pattern, albeit with fewer pronounced fluctuations. Most notably, the revenue multiple’s decline during the 2008 financial crisis was significantly milder than the EBITDA multiple. There was also a substantial increase in value during the 2021 upswing. Unlike the EBITDA multiple, however, which sustained growth throughout 2022, the revenue multiple experienced a slight decline over the same period.

Median EBITDA multiple and Revenue multiple in Europe between 2003 to 2022

In a previous blog post focusing on Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), an in-depth analysis of median valuation multiples across various regions of Europe revealed a growing “CEE Discount” in these multiples compared to the broader European market. 

Factors contributing to this discount include smaller deal sizes, less intense buyer competition, and greater market fragmentation. Additionally, elevated political and economic risks in certain CEE countries also contributed to this discount. Finally, it’s worth noting that higher risk-free rates in several CEE nations have resulted in lower valuations due to the discounting of future cash flows.

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M&A in Central and Eastern Europe

Work with Aventis Advisors on your European deals

The growing number of deals in Europe has raised the demand for M&A advisors in this region. By partnering with an advisor, you can gain valuable insights into burgeoning countries, industries, and companies that align with your business goals. European M&A advisors’ expertise is particularly beneficial in cross-border transactions, helping foreign parties understand market dynamics,legal and regulatory frameworks, and language and cultural barriers.

At Aventis Advisors, we have extensive expertise assisting international buyers with the unique complexities of investing in Europe, particularly in Central and Eastern Europe. With our access to local databases and networks, we can provide valuable insights and support in selecting and closing the right deal for you. Our experience in connecting foreign investors with European targets enables us to handle diverse investment needs, from navigating complex financial requirements to bridging cultural gaps.

Contact us if you want to learn more about M&A opportunities in Europe. We would happily answer any of your questions and find the best deals for you.