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Investing in CEE: Inbound M&A report 2022/2023

Mazars, the international audit, tax and advisory firm, today releases a new report, in association with Mergermarket, which reveals that dealmakers in the CEE region have adapted rapidly to the tougher environment that emerged in 2022.

The study, Investing in CEE: Inbound M&A report 2022/2023, offers an overview of M&A activity in the region in 2022 and looks ahead to the challenges and opportunities in the coming months.

Overall, CEE saw 846 transactions worth €39.2bn in aggregate. While these figures represent year-on-year declines for the region, volume and disclosed value were down 5% and 21%, respectively, from 2021, there are two key points to bear in mind.

First, 2021 was always going to be a hard year to beat, or even match, thanks to the then-low interest rates and surge in dealmaking post-pandemic. The number of transactions recorded in CEE in 2022, while down, is nonetheless higher than for any full-year period on record except 2021. The aggregate value of those deals is also higher than any annual total besides that posted in 2021, just eclipsing 2016’s €38.6bn.

Second, CEE was not alone in facing M&A headwinds – all parts of the world, without exception, were affected. Notably, the year-on-year declines in volume and value recorded in CEE were considerably less pronounced than those seen globally. Indeed, the advanced economies of Western Europe and North America both suffered sharper year-on-year declines in volume and value.

CEE also remained a strong draw for international investment. The overall proportion of M&A transactions in the region involving cross-border sponsors rose to 64% in 2022, up four percentage points from the year before and easily the highest proportion on recent record dating back to 2015.

Meanwhile, in the private equity space, activity softened after 2021’s record-breaking dealmaking deluge, with buyout volume down 31% year on year. Value fell even further, by 66%, with buyouts totalling €3.4bn in 2022 compared to €9.9bn the year before.

That said, buyout volume in 2022 held up remarkably well by historical standards. Indeed, the number of private equity buyouts in 2022 remains one of the highest on record for CEE, with a total of 97 deals, easily eclipsing any annual sum between 2015-2020.

Looking ahead, Michel Kiviatkowski, CEE Financial Advisory Leader and Managing Partner of Mazars in Poland, comments: “2023 will for sure be a challenging year. But set against this are the quality of the region’s businesses, the creativity of dealmakers and the continuing support of the EU’s Resilience and Recovery Facility, which is worth more than €100bn to the 12 CEE countries that are EU members. This, and the CEE region’s sound fundamentals, suggests there are good reasons to be relatively optimistic about the year ahead.”

Further key findings from the report include:

  • Regional hotspots. The top four countries for M&A deal volume in CEE in 2022 were Poland (with 235 deals), Austria (120), the Czech Republic (81) and Romania (76). In terms of aggregate deal value, Poland and Austria likewise took the top two spots, followed by Hungary and then Croatia.
  • Tech still the star performer. Technology stands out as the primary generator, in volume terms, of inbound CEE deals involving bidders from outside the region in 2022. While the number of deals recorded (108) was down 13% from the exceptional levels reached in 2021 (124), it is nonetheless one of the highest annual deal totals yet seen for the tech sector, with the next closest being the 60 transactions logged in 2020.
  • Narrowing valuation gap. The median EV/EBITDA multiple for CEE across all sectors was 8.5x in 2021-22, Mergermarket data shows. This is only marginally lower than the median multiple for Western Europe, which was 8.9x for the same period. This convergence is significant. The data shows that the median multiple for CEE has risen (by more than half a turn of EBITDA compared to 2019-20’s 7.8x), while the Western Europe multiple has fallen (from 10.7x in 2019-20).