Survey finds companies increasingly looking for takeovers to cushion global slowdown

There is no let-up in executives' appetite for corporate takeovers despite volatility in the stock market and mounting concerns over the global economy, particularly China.

According to a survey released Monday by consulting firm EY, the recent wave of mergers and acquisitions, or M&A, is set to continue over the coming year. It found that 59 percent of global companies are planning to secure at least one deal over the next 12 months, partly as a means of cushioning waning global growth as China's economy slows.

The figure for October is up from 56 percent in April and 40 percent at the same time last year. It represents the highest interest in acquisitions that EY's survey of corporate deal-making has found in its six-year history. The low point was at the start, when only 24 percent of companies signaled the intention to make a takeover.

"With modest increases in global GDP, organic growth alone is not enough for companies to expand and reshape at the pace they need," said Pip McCrostie, EY's global head of transactions.

"The search for growth is lifting deal-making to record highs, and executives are focusing on M&A to secure innovation, competitive advantage and market share for the foreseeable future," she added.

M&A activity has really gathered pace this year with deal values, according to EY, already up 35 percent on 2014 and more megadeals — those valued above $10 billion — in 2015 than in any previous year of the survey's history.

Earlier this month, the world's top two beer makers agreed to join forces to create a company that would control nearly a third of the global market. Much of the logic behind the 69 billion-pound ($106 billion) takeover of British-based SAB Miller by Anheuser Busch InBev is to cope with faltering beer consumption in many parts of the world.

Other big deals this year include Royal Dutch Shell's 47 billion-pound ($71 billion) yet-to-be-completed acquisition of BG Group, as well as the $62.6 billion merger between Heinz and Kraft Foods, which is now called Kraft Heinz.

EY said the boundaries between industries looks set to blur, with 48 percent of executives planning acquisitions in a different sector as new technology impacts almost everything along the business chain. The manufacturing and retail sectors are set for the most such activity.

And companies are increasingly ready to make deals outside their home country. The firm said 70 percent of respondents are looking to do so, with the 19-country eurozone set to see a rise in deals amid hopes that the debt crisis that has gripped the region has abated following the latest bailout of Greece.

"This is down to increased confidence in the stability of the region," said McCrostie.

Though deal-making has been on the rise over the past few years as the global economy recovered from its deepest recession since World War II and companies built up their cash reserves, EY says it could have been even higher. It noted that 73 percent of executives have walked away from deals over the past 12 months.

"Executives are taking a long-term view and evaluating deals more carefully than ever before," said McCrostie. "They are stepping back when necessary. This is not 'a deals for deals sake mentality'."

EY's survey was based on surveys of more than 1,600 executives in 53 countries.