M&A deal activity in energy, utilities and resources (EU&R) showed signs of recovery through the second half of 2020, although the deals landscape remains patchy, with considerable variation among sectors and territories. Ongoing waves of COVID-19, asymmetrical rates of economic performance and volatile commodity prices are all playing a part. Companies with capital are finding opportunities to invest, but others continue to be stressed by unpredictable conditions.
We expect the transformation to net zero to influence a number of M&A deals, much as it did during 2020. Traditional value levers (portfolio optimisation and consolidation) and the oil price shock from the first half of 2020 will also continue to play a role. Contrary to our mid-2020 expectations, supply chain securitisation played a minor role in M&A activity in the second half of the year. We still expect this to contribute to deal activity in the industry, but we don’t see clear M&A trends yet.
We still see macroeconomics as a major contributor to deal activity. Towards the end of 2020 the global stock markets were buoyed by progress on COVID-19 vaccines and factors such as increased government stimulus measures and the outcome of the US presidential election. As economic activity continues to pick up, we expect to see further improvement in M&A deal activity in 2021.
Capital is a key enabler of deals, and the capital landscape in energy, utilities and resources is changing, largely due to decarbonisation. We are seeing an accelerating trend of commitments to net zero beyond Europe. Major global corporations (including PwC) are increasingly announcing carbon-neutral targets as part of their environmental, social and governance (ESG) programmes. Private equity, pension and sovereign wealth funds, as well as banks and insurers, continue to announce climate priorities. These initiatives will lead investor classes to reallocate capital between asset groups. Ultimately, they will dictate which mergers and acquisitions get done and by whom.
“As the transformation to net zero advances, energy, utility and resources companies are pivoting towards more integrated value chains focused on delivering solutions to customers with minimal environmental impact.”
Dealmaking in energy, utilities and resources has trended upwards, with variations by sector and geography. Third and fourth-quarter volumes exceeded those of the same periods in 2019.
In 2021, we anticipate the following M&A hotspots in the energy, utilities and resources space:
We expect several key themes to shape the M&A deal landscape in energy, utilities and resources in 2021:
In general, debt has never been cheaper, and the current economic recession is likely to keep interest rates low well into 2021. Moreover, a growing number of banks and private equity funds are signatories to the Collective Commitment to Climate Action (CCCA), agreeing to favour investment in new energy and renewables and exit carbon-intensive assets. Similarly, the United Nations-convened Net-Zero Asset Owner Alliance, a group of institutional investors representing $5.1 trillion of assets under management,1 continues to gain traction.
While companies seek to divest carbon-, water- and land-intensive assets to meet their ESG objectives, the buyer pool and capital sources supporting those assets are likely to decline in the coming years. Investment in high-emitting but economically viable assets may come from private sector players that are less sensitive to social licence and have lighter public reporting requirements.
It’s not yet clear how much investor support traditional oil and gas giants will find for their efforts to break away from their legacy role and decarbonise. They will need to find ways to attract investors who could otherwise direct their funds to companies already operating in the renewables space.
Just as the COVID-19 pandemic affected geographies and industry sectors differently, so will the recovery—with an equally asymmetric effect on M&A activity in 2021. Positive news about vaccines, improving local economies, increased government stimulus measures and the outcome of the US presidential election, among other factors, have already led to a global bump in stock market valuations. We expect this to translate into increased levels of deal activity in 2021.
COVID-19 has accelerated the global transition to carbon-neutral and greener energy sources. In recent months, an increasing number of oil companies across regions have announced commitments to reduce carbon emissions, including ConocoPhillips and PetroChina. These are significant and will likely encourage others to follow suit. We’ve also seen commitments by companies such as BASF and Bayer in the chemicals and agrichemicals sectors, and Baker Hughes and Petrofac in the oilfield services sector.
Countries are continuing to make moves as well. In September 2020 Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged that China will achieve carbon neutrality by 2060, and in October 2020 Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced that Japan is aiming for zero emissions by 2050. The UK is looking to exit the last of its coal-fired stations ahead of schedule (2024 instead of 2025), due to the reduction in demand triggered by COVID-19.
Mergers and acquisitions will be key to the sector’s transformation to net zero, along with partnerships and investments in technologies. While some of the necessary technologies already exist, the business models to use them profitably require further development. Even assets that are already economical aren’t yet available at the scale required to have significant impact and create value.
EU&R companies are at a critical juncture. Facing an inevitable global transition to carbon neutrality, they need to decide when and how to play. The choice is either to continue operating and pursuing legacy assets and industries in as cost-efficient a way as possible, or to embrace a new path toward decarbonisation via integrated service offerings or complete business model shifts. Both options carry risk.
 “United Nations-convened Net-Zero Asset Owner Alliance,” UNEP Finance Initiative, accessed 13 January 2021, https://www.unepfi.org/net-zero-alliance/.
 Tayyeba Irum, Chris Hudgins, ‘US bankruptcies surpass 600 in 2020 as coronavirus-era filings keep climbing’, S&P Global Market Intelligence, 15 December 2020, accessed 13 January 2021, https://www.spglobal.com/marketintelligence/en/news-insights/latest-news-headlines/us-bankruptcies-surpass-600-in-2020-as-coronavirus-era-filings-keep-climbing-61734090
About the data
We have based our commentary on M&A trends on data provided by industry-recognised sources. Specifically, values and volumes referenced in this publication are based on officially announced transactions, excluding rumoured and withdrawn transactions, as provided by Refinitiv as of 31 December 2020 and as accessed on 3 January 2021. This has been supplemented by additional information from Dealogic and our independent research. This document includes data derived from data provided under license by Dealogic. Dealogic retains and reserves all rights in such licensed data. Certain adjustments have been made to the source information to align with PwC’s industry mapping. We define megadeals as transactions with a deal value greater than US$5 billion. Average deal value is calculated based on announced deals with a disclosed deal value only.
Global Energy, Utilities & Resources Deals Leader, PwC Australia
US Energy Deals Leader, PwC United States
Germany Energy, Utilities & Resources Deals Leader, PwC Germany
China Energy Deals Leader, PwC China