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A Taylor Swift Moment for Mergers and Acquisitions
June, 24th 2015

The health insurer Cigna brushed off a $47 billion merger proposal from its rival Anthem on Sunday just as the pipeline operator Williams Companies was doing the same to a $53 billion approach from Energy Transfer Equity. All the while, the 25-year-old pop singer renowned for her songs of relationship angst forced Apple to pay up for music. In a seller’s market like this, love isn’t usually unrequited for long.

Companies are chasing each other now like hormone-addled teenagers. Some $1.9 trillion of deals were announced worldwide through early June, a 36 percent rise from a year ago. The pursuits are getting bolder, too, with cross-border bids also on the rise. Along with the aggressive tactics of Anthem and Energy Transfer, the Brazilian meatpacker JBS traversed nearly 6,000 miles of the Atlantic Ocean over the weekend to buy the British poultry producer Moy Park for $1.5 billion.

Suitors are putting on a show of bravado. There have been $250 billion of unsolicited or hostile deals announced so far this year, accounting for more than 12 percent of all activity in mergers and acquisitions, according to Thomson Reuters data. Over the last two decades, the rate was higher only in the exuberant 1999.

The high school nature of current corporate mergers is further evidenced by a FOMO mentality, or a “fear of missing out.” As industries consolidate rapidly, failing to move fast enough could exclude one participant. In health insurance in the United States, for example, Cigna — along with Aetna — wants to hook up with Humana, even as Anthem pursues Cigna. A similar frenzy is occurring in pharmaceuticals, where Teva Pharmaceutical Industries desires Mylan, while Mylan seeks Perrigo.

Forlorn deal makers could fill a Swift box set. As the songstress herself showed this weekend, prey have the upper hand. Apple quickly reversed itself on a royalty payment plan after Ms. Swift threatened to yank her hit album “1989” from the company’s new streaming service in protest. Corporate buyers with healthy stock prices, abundant cash and access to cheap debt are bound to give in to similar pressures. Many will find, however, that the objects of their desire at too high a price eventually bring nothing but heartache.

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