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M&A deals are taking longer to close
April, 26th 2010

Bharti Airtel may have clinched Kuwait-based Zain Telecoms Africa assets in a quick time, but it is a story of slow and steady approach for India Inc on the deal street. Indian companies are spending almost double the time to close out mergers & acquisitions (M&A) than they were two years back, before the financial meltdown struck the global markets. This has resulted in investment bankers being caught in a tizzy doing multiple iterations, with lower visibility on the results.

More participative and iterative process of decision making has not only increased the time involved but is causing considerable delays in deal closures, Srividya CG, partner, specialist advisory services at Grant Thornton, Indias fifth largest audit and advisory firm told SundayET.

In cross-border deals, the prevailing subdued business environment in the West has given the Indian promoter ample time to conduct a higher level of due-diligence to outline its target. The perturbed investment banking community sees a higher level of satisfaction coming only in the medium to long run if the current trend results in lesser number of deals getting cancelled soon after announcement and there are lesser number of failures.

By and large, deals are taking more than twice as long to close, says an anxious Ms Srividya. On an average, Indian companies are spending about eight to 12 months on a deal compared to four to six months two-three years ago.

The once-aggressive Indian promoter has turned cautious ever since some big-ticket deals that were concluded prior to this slowdown have not fared well for the respective buyers. These deals, struck at high valuations because of competitive bidding, have straddled some of these companies with over-valued assets. The board of directors is now asking for much greater level of analysis, before giving their consent to a deal, Ajay Arora, partner, transaction advisory services at Ernst & Young says.

Moreover, the extended lead time taken by banks and other financial institutions to provide debt and equity funding owing to stricter lending norms and need for stronger business plans has not helped matters. Then there has been a high level of scrutiny of legal and regulatory implications put in place to ensure deals dont get announced and then cancelled later in the cross border arena. Overall its a healthy trend since the better the analysis, the less the pain after deal closure, Mr Arora feels.

The year 2010 has started on a right note for the deal makers. Thanks to the Bharti-Zain deal during the first quarter, the M&A figure recorded this year has already exceeded the last years value. This year, M&A activity valued over $17 billion has been recorded in the first three months compared to $12 billion worth deals last year.

The increase has been at an overall level, in value as well as volume compared to 2009. Investment bankers anticipate the volumes to be two-three times of what has been witnessed in 2009. This will be a year of measured growth. Companies are not in a hurrydeals are getting broken but not breaking off, says Rohit Berry, partner and leader of the M&A practice at BMR Advisors.

Investment bankers expect sectors such as telecom, retail and consumer products, pharmaceuticals and education to lead the next wave of deals in the M&A space. The pipeline is fairly robust with a number of promoter groups in M&A discussions. Even the inward interest has been quite emphatic in the mid-market space, says Avinash Gupta, head of financial advisory at Deloitte in India. In the corporate world, every decision is backed by validations and strong case studies and it appears right now investment bankers may have fallen short of ideas but the towel hasnt been thrown yet!

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