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Emerging Europe remains a magnet for international dealmakers, CMS report reveals

18 March 2020

  • Deal volumes across emerging Europe fell by 6.5% in 2019
  • Foreign investment surged, with cross-border M&A increasing by 14.6% (1,163 deals)
  • Private equity investments reached a record high with 318 deals, accounting for 16% of all deal-making
  • Telecoms & IT outperformed Manufacturing as the second largest sector by volume (300 deals in 2019, compared with 279 in 2018) and claimed seven out of the 20 top deals by value
  • Real Estate & Construction remained the most active sector with 378 deals and was also the sector with the highest overall deal value (EUR 16.6bn)
  • Ukraine appears to be the country to watch – with transaction volumes increasing by 26% and transaction values increasing by 26.3%, compared with 2018
  • Deal count dropped in Poland and the Czech Republic, but overall deal value was up in Poland by 68%

Magnet for foreign and PE investment

There has been a marked increase in cross-border M&A deals which now account for nearly 60% of all transactions. In-bound investment originating from outside the region witnessed particularly strong growth. By transaction numbers, the US was the clear leader in international investment, clocking up 122 deals – a 37% increase compared with 2018. In-bound investments from UK-based companies also increased (+9%), as did investment from other Western-European countries, including Germany (+17%), France (+19%) and Spain (+133%).

Investment from Asia into emerging Europe also surged in 2019, accounting for 15.9% of M&A value. The overall value has more than doubled y-o-y, reaching EUR 11.5bn in 2019. 

China’s presence in the region continues to strengthen and it was the largest investor in emerging Europe by value (EUR 6.4bn – more than twice the value of its investment in 2018). The region also saw a rise in the value of investment from Japan (EUR 2.9bn, +112%), Singapore (EUR 607m, +601%) and South Korea (EUR 717m, +1093%). 

Private equity continued to build on its strong roots in 2019 and hit a record high of 318 deals (up from 307). The sector was responsible for 16.2% of all M&A deals (a 3.6% increase compared with 2018), amounting to a value of EUR 22.66bn. Activity in private equity was well-spread across the region, and is credited as one of the key drivers behind the rise in deals across many of the region’s most active sectors, including: Telecoms and IT, Manufacturing and Wholesale & Retail. Private equity buyers and sellers were involved in five EUR 1bn-plus deals across the region in 2019 – the largest being the EUR 1.9bn purchase of Central European Media Enterprises by PPF Group of the Czech Republic. 

Helen Rodwell, CEE Head of Corporate, CMS Prague, said: “Although overall deal numbers were a little lower this year, foreign interest in the region remains high with cross-border investment up 14.6% y-o-y and strong inbound investment flowing from Asia, US and UK in particular. Interestingly, Brexit does not seem to have had a considerable impact on the region in terms of UK investment, with deal numbers steady against last year. Private equity has also continued to show its resilience in 2019, as the regional eco-system grows more sophisticated in its ability to do deals. International funds are showing an increasing appetite for large deals in the region, while many regional players are using their home advantage to swoop on small and mid-sized deals as well as partnering on larger transactions.”

Focus on Ukraine

Ukraine has been identified as one of the countries to watch for foreign investment in 2020 as the reforms under new president Volodymyr Zelenskiy start to kick in. While in larger M&A markets (e.g., Russia and Turkey) the deal flow remained almost flat, in Ukraine transaction activity (+26%) and values (+26.3%), 26.3% were at their highest levels since 2013. Graham Conlon, corporate partner in CEE at CMS, commented: “Ukraine now has a new leadership with the political will, mandate and parliamentary majority to really transform the country and take it to the next level.”

In particular, de-escalation of conflict in the east of the country and wider reforms have to a certain extent eased the concerns of multinationals, which are one of the key investors in the region. Tetyana Dovgan, a partner at CMS Ukraine, commented: “What’s important is for them to see the country going in the right direction. They should assess and distinguish between the types of risks they might encounter and use local expertise combined with best international practices to mitigate them.”

As regards sector activity, Graham Conlon noted: “Activity is very broadly spread and we’re also seeing things happen in banking and finance and energy, particularly around renewables.”

Such activity and the impressive results of the previous year allow us to make a positive forecast in respect of Ukraine for future periods. CMS Ukraine partner Maria Orlyk said: “I expect land reform and privatisation to open up a great deal of opportunity.” It is a very challenging plan, so let’s see how much they achieve in the first year.” Other legislation in the pipeline covers the reform of banking, capital controls, public private partnerships and foreign investment protection, plus a clampdown on corporate raiding.

Outlook for 2020

Helen Rodwell comments: “Looking at the year ahead, we believe there may be some slowdown in economic growth, but even if that is the case, we don’t see any dramatic fall in M&A activity across emerging Europe because these markets are independent and self-contained. If anything, a slower start to 2020 might even stimulate M&A activity as vendors’ minds focus on getting deals done sooner rather than later, and investors who have been waiting on the side lines step into the fray.”