M&A: The One Thing You Need to Get Right

The financial world set a record in 2015 for mergers and acquisitions. The value of such deals eclipsed the previous record, set in 2007, which had surpassed an earlier peak in 1999. This is perhaps not auspicious: It seems (pace the late Prince) that we are partying as if it were 1999—and 2007 to boot. The headiness of those years didn’t bode well for either 2000–2002 or 2008–2009.

It’s far too early to know how the newer deals will work out, but the seemingly ageless pattern of giant failures continues apace. In 2015 Microsoft wrote off 96% of the value of the handset business it had acquired from Nokia for $7.9 billion the previous year. Meanwhile, Google has unloaded for $2.9 billion the handset business it bought from Motorola for $12.5 billion in 2012; HP has written down $8.8 billion of its $11.1 billion Autonomy acquisition; and in 2011 News Corporation sold MySpace for a mere $35 million after acquiring it for $580 million just six years earlier.

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