Is consolidation still cool? A number of big deals have collapsed in recent days, whether it’s just the dog days of summer or something else in the air.
Most notably, Rupert Murdoch suddenly cooled on acquiring Time Warner, when it turned out Warners head Jeff Bewkes—and more importantly, Fox stockholder—weren’t so eager to canoodle. The sudden retreat was said to be uncharacteristic of Murdoch, however, who usually gets his company:
The announcement stunned long-time watchers of Mr Murdoch, who rarely gives up without a fight and typically wins the day. The abruptness of the withdrawal was all the more surprising, given that the offer that had been rejected was an opening gambit and a drawn-out takeover tussle looked to be in prospect. “He completely misread the situation,” says one long-time observer of both companies. “He premised his approach on the idea that Jeff Bewkes [Time Warner’s chief executive] wanted to sell and would do so on any terms.”
Over at the mobile carrier ranch, Sprint’s longed-for takeover of T-Mobile also got the kibosh thanks to watchful feds, who decided four big phone companies is better than three:
Regulatory concerns seem to hint at the fact that the government essentially did not want to approve a merger of this kind. In fact, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler said keeping four large carriers was “good for American consumers.” “Sprint now has an opportunity to focus their efforts on robust competition,” Wheeler said in a statement. Along with other regulators, Wheeler has been public about his skepticism on a merger between the two carriers.
And even old school publishers had the urge to merge, as Hachette and Ingram were planning to split up book company Perseus—Hachette would get the publishing end, and Ingram, the immense book wholesaler, would get the distribution business. But that deal, too, faded away when the three way just didn’t work out:
A letter sent to Perseus employees Thursday afternoon, from Perseus CEO David Steinberger, said that despite much effort from all three parties “we could not reach an agreement on everything necessary to close the transaction.” Representatives from both Hachette and Ingram confirmed that the deal was off, but would not offer further comment. The deal was originally set to be completed at the end of July but, last week, notices were sent to Perseus employees explaining that the parties were not able to finalize the transaction by the end of the month. Despite the delay, employees were told the deal was still expected to be finalized by the end of August.
Is the consolidation era over? No way. Comcast is still set to acquire Time Warner Cable, perhaps training TWC’s employees so they aren’t idiots along the way. And some feel the street thinks mergers are the only way to grow the sputtering economy:
“The corporate sector has been kind of out of it in creating any sort of growth,” Savita Subramanian, an equities strategist with Bank of America Merrill Lynch, said. “So maybe this is the first salvo in a corporate-spending-driven economic recovery.”
So far this year, $2.2 trillion in deals has been announced globally, according to data from Thomson Reuters. That total represents a 67 percent increase from the same period last year, and it is setting up 2014 to be a robust year for deal makers.
To this consumer, healthy competition is better for the economy than mega-corps trading money, but what do I know. Things may have calmed down for the next two minutes but don’t be too surprised if more big and small consolidation is still on the way.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.