SNC-Lavalin is acquiring British engineering consultancy Atkins for £2.1bn ($2.6bn). The offer represented a c.35% premium to the undisturbed closing price of Atkins prior to acquisitions talks were announced. As highlighted in our January market update, CH2M had been rumored to be in discussions with Atkins about a possible merger earlier in the year.
The acquisition would boost the Canadian engineering and construction firm’s European revenue as it emerges from a self-imposed freeze on acquisitions in 2015. The deal is expected to expand SNC’s projects outside the energy industry, while oil prices continue to remain significantly below their 2014 levels.
In combination with John Wood Group’s acquisition of Amec for £2.2bn ($2.7bn) last month, the deal represents a consolidation of the UK engineering consulting market, a trend that we anticipated globally in our latest Engineering M&A Report.
There may not be a more fundamentally important topic for consulting firms than improving profits.
Shareholders ultimately want a return on their investment and buyers are looking for evidence of healthy growth, while strong profitability is required to sustain growth and equity realization.
The levers that need to be pulled to improve margin – revenue and cost – might be well understood, but the combination of activities required are often more nuanced.
We’ve identified the top strategies firms can use to start improving profits now:
The leadership team must make profitability an ongoing focus
Profitability has to become embedded in the leadership team’s mindset for sustainable margin improvement to be successful.
Achieving this requires strong communication around accountabilities, clear success measures being established and tactical activities – such as margin exception reporting, resource management, and utilization forecasting – becoming integrated into regular business updates.
Once a shared understanding of what success looks like is established within this team, firms can create strategic work streams – such as market expansion or IP development – and make people accountable.
According to a report by The Register, Oracle has hired consultants to conduct due diligence research on acquiring Accenture. Accenture is a major Oracle partner, while Oracle has a material services business which operates alongside its software offering. The combination would significantly enhance both companies position in their respective markets, creating a leading provider of end-to-end digital transformation products and services.
A deal with Accenture would follow Oracle’s recent acquisition of NetSuite for $9.3bn and its acquisition of PeopleSoft in 2005 for $10.3bn. With Accenture’s market cap at over $77bn, the deal would be by far its largest acquisition to date.
Oracle has been focusing on its cloud business, but is still considered to be behind market leaders Amazon Web Services, as well as Microsoft, Google and IBM. Following reports of the deal, Accenture’s stock fell, with some equity analysts raising concerns about the deal’s implications for Accenture’s independence and the risks to Accenture’s strong relationships with Oracle’s competitors like SAP, Salesforce, ServiceNow and Workday.
Equiteq’s CEO, David Jorgenson, and Jean-Louis Michelet met with Professor Kevyn Yong (Dean of ESSEC Asia-Pacific and specialist of entrepreneurship) at ESSEC Business School in Singapore to discuss the opportunities and challenges impacting M&A activities in the Asia-Pacific region.
This is the third part of their discussion: What advice would you give to consulting firm owners in one of the Asia-Pacific countries?
The consultancy landscape in Asia-Pacific has changed in the last few years. There has been a strong development in the use of consultants as the regional economies have grown and become less dependent on the primary sector, and have seen a surge in secondary and services sectors activities.
A 2016 report from the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific shows the increased activity in the services sector is partly down to its role in facilitating global value chains in the manufacturing sector. It also attributes this to the growth of digital-intensive services in sectors like financial services, telecommunications and digital media and marketing.
The New Year commenced with some notable deal activity and M&A news across all five of the consulting segments that we track. The share prices of many listed consultants that form part of our Equiteq Consulting Share Price Index also rose on the back of strong market sentiment and earnings announcements.
WS Atkins and CH2M $4bn merger talks
The Times reported that British engineering and design consulting firm, WS Atkins Plc (ATKW.L) and US-based CH2M are in merger talks. Atkins had said last year that plans by the new U.S. administration and U.K. government to increase infrastructure spending would benefit the company. Atkins had been using M&A to selectively increase its geographic footprint and capabilities, in a segment that is considered to be consolidating as players look to reduce overheads and increase global market share.
2016 ended with a number of high-profile deals being signed across all five of our knowledge-intensive services segments. The share prices of many listed consultants that form part of our Equiteq Consulting Share Price Index also reached record highs. This continued strong investor confidence in the sector is also observed across other industries as reflected by the strong gains of the S&P 500 and Dow Jones, as well as the FTSE 100 which reached an all-time high by year end.
The largest deal to be announced in December was KKR & Co.’s acquisition of cyber-security specialist, Optiv Security, from The Blackstone Group. The deal followed Blackstone’s filing for an initial public offering of Optiv last month. The sale of the business follows a number of recent high-profile and lucrative private equity exits of portfolio companies operating in the consulting sector, including the sale of Pactera by Blackstone and the sale of AlixPartners by CVC Capital Partners. We expect that these successful landmark sales will support strong appetite from financial buyers investing in the sector in the New Year.
Advancing technologies and cloud computing, a maturing millennial generation and the rise of the ‘gig economy’ are creating an environment where consulting businesses are increasingly looking beyond the traditional employed model toward more flexible employee solutions.
This way of working suits consultancies, but they need to consider how it affects the equity value of their company.
Does a stigma still exist in the minds of buyers of knowledge-intensive firms when considering an acquisition? Potential suitors may view a more traditional, fully staffed model as more attractive for reasons of consistency, continuity and a deeper entrenchment of brand values and culture. However, these characteristics and contract working are not mutually exclusive.