On the corporate merger front, 2004 looks like it will go out with a bang. On Monday, PeopleSoft ( PSFT) finally gave in to Oracle ( ORCL) after a year and a half of corporate wrangling between the two software manufacturers. Oracle will acquire PeopleSoft for $10.3 billion, about $1.3 billion more than Oracle's supposed "best and final" offer. Next up on the horizon are two big deals in the telecom and pharmaceutical industries. By the end of the week, Wall Street expects Johnson & Johnson ( JNJ) to finalize a deal to acquire Guidant ( GDT) for $24 billion, and Nextel ( NXTL) and Sprint ( FON) to merge in a $35 billion transaction. The flurry of last-minute deals adds to what has been a second consecutive solid year for corporate deal-making, in the wake of a two-year merger-and-acquisition drought. The dollar value of announced U.S. deals is up 30% this year to $678 billion, compared with 2003, according to Thomson Financial. Last year marked the beginning of the M&A revival, with the dollar value of announced deals rising 24% to $538 billion. But history suggests that deal-making may take a bit of breather in 2005. While corporate wheeling and dealing will likely continue, the escalation in the dollar value of those deals may abate. "In the past 20 years, there has never been a three-year period where U.S. announced M&A grew by increasingly higher amounts each year," says Richard Peterson, a research with Thomson Financial. Even in the halcyon days of the Nasdaq bubble, when M&A peaked at $1.7 trillion in 2000, a boom year was followed by a so-so 2001. And the total dollar value of corporate deals actually declined by 4% in 1999 to $1.5 trillion. Of course, the year before that, the value of announced deals had soared 80% to $1.6 trillion. So no one really noticed the slight drop.
But Wall Street has long way to go before it gets back to those happy days for investment bankers. In fact, before the last-minute flurry of deals, the M&A front had been awfully quiet. Much of the deal-making took place in the first half of the year. Indeed, the market for corporate deals seemed to shut down almost as soon as the financial press proclaimed that M&A was back. The dearth of corporate deals in the second half of the year may show up in the fourth-quarter earnings of four big investments banks: Goldman Sachs ( GS), Lehman Brothers ( LEH), Morgan Stanley ( MWD) and Bear Stearns ( BSC). Across the securities industry, revenue from deal advisory work is expected to be down about 27% in the period, according to David Trone, a brokerage analyst with Fox-Pitt Kelton. Wall Street firms collect their fees for advising on deals only after a transaction has closed. To date, about one-third of the announced deals, on the basis of their combined dollar value, have yet to close, Thomson Financial reports. Interestingly, while the dollar value of total deals is up sharply this year, the overall number of transactions is pretty much unchanged from a year ago. Last year there were 7,580 corporate mergers in the U.S. With two weeks to go in the year, U.S. companies have announced 7,570 deals. That the total number of deals has not risen dramatically is another indication that the M&A revival may be cooling a bit. Finally, the continuation of good times for M&A depends a lot on the state of the overall economy and the stock market. But most experts are predicting the economy will slow in 2005 and that stocks will rise only modestly. All in all, that's not a recipe for 2005 serving up another boom year for M&A.