Mergers and acquisitions (M&A) refers to the consolidation of companies or assets. M&A can include a number of different transactions, such as mergers, acquisitions, consolidations, tender offers, purchase of assets and management acquisitions.

Some of the reasons why companies merge with or acquire other companies include:

1. Synergy: The most used word in M&A is synergy, which is the idea that by combining business activities, performance will increase and costs will decrease. Essentially, a business will attempt to merge with another business that has complementary strengths and weaknesses.

2. Diversification / Sharpening Business Focus: These two conflicting goals have been used to describe thousands of M&A transactions. A company that merges to diversify may acquire another company in a seemingly unrelated industry in order to reduce the impact of a particular industry's performance on its profitability. Companies seeking to sharpen focus often merge with companies that have deeper market penetration in a key area of operations.

3. Growth: Mergers can give the acquiring company an opportunity to grow market share without having to really earn it by doing the work themselves - instead, they buy a competitor's business for a price. Usually, these are called horizontal mergers. For example, a beer company may choose to buy out a smaller competing brewery, enabling the smaller company to make more beer and sell more to its brand-loyal customers.

4. Increase Supply-Chain Pricing Power: By buying out one of its suppliers or one of the distributors, a business can eliminate a level of costs. If a company buys out one of its suppliers, it is able to save on the margins that the supplier was previously adding to its costs; this is known as a vertical merger. If a company buys out a distributor, it may be able to ship its products at a lower cost.

5. Eliminate Competition: Many M&A deals allow the acquirer to eliminate future competition and gain a larger market share in its product's market. The downside of this is that a large premium is usually required to convince the target company's shareholders to accept the offer. It is not uncommon for the acquiring company's shareholders to sell their shares and push the price lower in response to the company paying too much for the target company.

Recently, Dow Chemical completed its merger with DuPont to create the world's largest chemical company in terms of sales, now known as DowDuPont (DWDP).

For more on this topic, read The Basics of Mergers And Acquisitions and The Wacky World of M&As.

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