Global metals deals insights: Year-end 2019

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Executive summary

The global Metals industry faced significant challenges in 2019 and as a result deal activity suffered throughout the year. Not only has the industry had to contend with dynamic trade negotiations and tariffs directly impacting products, but also a weakening in US manufacturing activity in the second half of the year. The Steel sub-sector in particular has slowed, as producers faced falling demand and lower prices during the year. These and other factors were among the reasons for reduced deal value, volume, and average deal size in 2019 compared to 2018. 


“While 2019 was a stellar year for the US economy and M&A, it was also permeated with uncertainty. From shifting trade policies to geopolitical instability and volatile metals pricing, deal makers focused on metals did not have an easy go of it. Recent progress has been seen, but the picture remains murky, and longer-term consequences are unclear, meaning Metals deal activity may remain subdued into 2020.”

Brian Kelly, US Metals Deals Leader

High level trends and highlights of 2019


  • Total deal value in 2019 declined by 33% to $39.7 billion from $59.1 billion in 2018. The fourth quarter of 2019 deal value increased by 2.3x to $6.8 billion from $3 billion in Q3 2019.

  • In 2019, deal volume declined by 10% to 633 deals compared to 702 deals in 2018. The fourth quarter also saw deal volume increased by 7% to 169 deals from 158 deals in Q3.

  • Average deal size in 2019 declined by 24% to $121 million from $159.4 million in 2018. Average deal size in Q4 2019, increased by 2.2x to $78.7 million from $35.9 million Q3 2019.

Deals by disclosed value and average deal size

In 2019, average deal size declined by 24% to $121 million compared to $159.4 million in 2018. The decline in average deal size is attributed to reduced number of megadeals and large deals in 2019. For Q4 2019, the average deal size increased by 2.2x to $78.7 million when compared to Q3 2019. The increase in average deal size is due to a significant increase in the deal value and relatively small increase in deal volume in Q4 2019 versus Q3 2019.


Financial vs. strategic investors

In Q4 2019, strategic investors led in terms of deal value and volume by contributing 65% and 60%, respectively. Similarly in 2019, strategic investors led in terms of both deal value and volume by contributing 80% and 57%, respectively. The deal value and volume for strategic investors declined by 40% and 20%, respectively, in 2019 when compared to 2018. However, the deal value and volume for financial investors increased by 24% and 9%, respectively, in the same period.


Regional analysis

In Q4 2019, Asia and Oceania was the leader in deal value and volume as both the acquirer and target region. Overall in 2019, North America was the leader as the acquirer and target region, contributing more than half of the total deal value as both acquirer and target region. North America was followed by Asia and Oceania with 38% and 33% share as the acquirer and target region, respectively. In deal volume for 2019, Asia and Oceania led by contributing 53% and 51%, as acquirer and target region, respectively.


Highlights of deal activity

Metals deals outlook

While Q4 2019 experienced increased deal flow from prior quarters, the year as a whole fell short when compared to 2018. Twenty nineteen not only saw a 10% decline in total deal volume from the prior year, deal value contracted by 33% from 2018 figures. The continued uncertainty investors faced throughout the year can be evidenced in these metrics.

The Steel industry in particular was adversely impacted during the year. Despite having the largest deal in Q4 2019 with Cleveland Cliffs $1.1 billion acquisition of AK Steel, the Steel sub-sector experienced a 64% reduction in deal value from 2018. The industry has suffered from a softening in demand as a result of adversity faced in the automotive industry and an overall drop in manufacturing. With US Steel’s recent layoff announcement and reports of manufacturing activity falling to the lowest levels in a decade, the industry appears to be facing strong headwinds as it enters the new decade.

Ongoing trade negotiations and the escalation of retaliatory tariffs were the hallmark of 2019, with the uncertainty surrounding these policies potentially hindering deal activity throughout the year. While still not completely resolved, progress appears to have been made with the recent announcement of a Phase One trade deal between the United States and China. Additionally, the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) was passed by the US House of Representatives and came one step closer to completion. Both these developments may bolster deal activity in the months to come.

About the data

The information presented in this report is an analysis of deals in the global metals industry. Deal information was sourced from Thomson Reuters and includes deals for which targets have an SIC code that falls into one of 30 metals industry groups. Certain adjustments have been made to the information to exclude transactions which are not specific to metals or incorporate relevant transactions that were omitted from the SIC industry codes.

This analysis includes all individual mergers, acquisitions, and divestitures for disclosed or undisclosed values, leveraged buyouts, privatizations, minority stake purchases, and acquisitions of remaining interest announced between January 1, 2017 and December 31, 2019, with a deal status of completed, partially completed, pending, pending regulatory and pending completion, and excludes all rumors and seeking buyers. Additionally, transactions that are spin-offs through distribution to existing shareholders are included.

Percentages and values are rounded to the nearest whole number which may result in minor differences when summing totals.

Contact us

Brian Kelly

Metals Deals Leader, PwC US

Michael Tomera

US TAS Market Leader, Midwest Market, PwC US

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