Mergers and acquisitions are both aspects of strategic management, corporate finance and management dealing with the buying, selling, dividing and combining of different companies and similar entities that can help an enterprise grow rapidly in its sector or location of origin, or a new field or new location, without creating a subsidiary, other child entity or using a joint venture.
M&A can be defined as a type of restructuring in that they result in some entity reorganization with the aim to provide growth or positive value. Consolidation of an industry or sector occurs when widespread M&A activity concentrates the resources of many small companies into a few larger ones, such as occurred with the automotive industry between 1910 and 1940.
The distinction between a "merger" and an "acquisition" has become increasingly blurred in various respects (particularly in terms of the ultimate economic outcome), although it has not completely disappeared in all situations. From a legal point of view, a merger is a legal consolidation of two companies into one entity, whereas an acquisition occurs when one company takes over another and completely establishes itself as the new owner (in which case the target company still exists as an independent legal entity controlled by the acquirer). Either structure can result in the economic and financial consolidation of the two entities. In practice, a deal that is an acquisition for legal purposes may be euphemistically called a "merger of equals" if both CEOs agree that joining together is in the best interest of both of their companies, while when the deal is unfriendly (that is, when the target company does not want to be purchased) it is almost always regarded as an "acquisition".
Corporate acquisitions can be characterized for legal purposes as either "asset purchases" in which the seller sells business assets to the buyer, or "equity purchases" in which the buyer purchases equity interests in a target company from one or more selling shareholders. Asset purchases are common in technology transactions where the buyer is most interested in particular intellectual property rights but does not want to acquire liabilities or other contractual relationships. An asset purchase structure may also be used when the buyer wishes to buy a particular division or unit of a company which is not a separate legal entity. There are numerous challenges particular to this type of transaction, including isolating the specific assets and liabilities that pertain to the unit, determining whether the unit utilizes services from other units of the selling company, transferring employees, transferring permits and licenses, and ensuring that the seller does not compete with the buyer in the same business area in the future.
Structuring the sale of a financially distressed company is uniquely difficult due to the treatment of non-compete covenants, consulting agreements, and business goodwill in such transactions.
Mergers, asset purchases and equity purchases are each taxed differently, and the most beneficial structure for tax purposes is highly situation-dependent. One hybrid form often employed for tax purposes is a triangular merger, where the target company merges with a shell company wholly owned by the buyer, thus becoming a subsidiary of the buyer. In a "forward triangular merger", the buyer causes the target company to merge into the subsidiary; a "reverse triangular merger" is similar except that the subsidiary merges into the target company. Under the U.S. Internal Revenue Code, a forward triangular merger is taxed as if the target company sold its assets to the shell company and then liquidated, whereas a reverse triangular merger is taxed as if the target company's shareholders sold their stock in the target company to the buyer.
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