For the first time since September 2004, no merger and acquisition deal worth more than $1 billion was announced worldwide last week, according to data provider Refinitiv, as the new coronavirus stifles global M&A.
The dearth of mega deals comes as countries across the world have shut down large swathes of their economies as they battle the COVID-19 pandemic that has infected over 2.33 million people and claimed 165,000 lives.
Worldwide merger activity so far this year is down 33% from a year ago and at $762.6 billion is the lowest year-to-date amount for dealmaking since 2013, the data showed. The number of deals also fell 20% year-on-year.
"We anticipate that there may be fewer signed deals announced this quarter as parties take longer to work through the impact of the COVID-19 situation," said Robert Wright of law firm Baker McKenzie's Asia-Pacific M&A group.
"However, where parties have completed underlying due diligence processes and where there remain strong fundamentals, we do expect to see a number of these deals to come back online."
Companies have been walking away from announced transactions amid changed deal conditions and high levels of uncertainty. Canada's Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc on Monday said it would shelve its $5.6 billion buyout of petrol station operator Caltex Australia Ltd as fuel demand plunges and as companies look inward to get through the crisis.
Regulators worldwide have also toughened rules for foreign investments to protect national assets. India last week ruled that investments by an entity from a country that shares a land border with it will require government approval in a move to curb "opportunistic takeovers/acquisitions".
Australia and Germany have also stepped up scrutiny over overseas investors.
With big deals largely put on hold as buyers wait to gauge the true impact of the pandemic, dealmakers are seeking other, related work on companies needing rescues, restructurings and potentially nationalizations as governments and central banks try to shore up their economies.
Still, efforts to recover from the virus-driven downturn are set to support M&A activity.
Some 56% of more than 2,900 executives surveyed globally by consultancy EY were planning an acquisition in the next 12 months, as they need to look beyond the current crisis to secure long-term growth, the firm said in a March report.
"If there is any prolonged downturn due to the current crisis, executives may be bolder in their ambitions and look to acquire those assets that will help them accelerate into an upturn faster," the report said.