The research, carried out in partnership with Cass Business School, counted deals that met its study criteria reached an all-time high of 1,041, including a record number of 307 posted in Q4, more than in any single quarter since its research began in 2008.
The research suggests that acquirers closing deals in 2015 outperformed the MSCI World by 10.1 percentage points during the year.
The number of completed mega-deals (over $10bn) reached 22 for the year (with five completing in Q4) the highest annual total since the research began.
Large-scale deals included Charter Communications’ deal for Time Warner Cable and the merger of Heinz and Kraft Foods. Shell’s £36bn acquisition of BG Group is set to complete next month.
Steve Allan, M&A Practice Leader (EMEA) at Willis Towers Watson, said 2015 had been a standout year: “We have not only seen an outstanding number of the very largest deals completing but the M&A market has also shown strength in depth with numbers passing the 1,000 deals-in-a-year mark for the first time.
“Not only was 2015 marked by high activity, but acquirers continued to realise value with the study now registering 12 consecutive quarters of outperformance for completed deals and 2015 showing record returns.”
Outperformance of cross-sector deals at 23.8 percentage points above the MSCI World was more than double that of the previous year (10.1pp).
The research also highlighted that acquirers in all sectors outperformed in 2015, with materials (25pp), industrials (18pp), high technology (14pp) and healthcare (9pp) well above their respective 2014 performances of 6pp, 8pp, 9pp and 7pp.
From a regional perspective North America was home to 488 of the deals, followed by Asia-Pacific with 342 and Europe with 180.