Distinction between mergers and acquisitions: Although often used synonymously, the terms merger and acquisition mean slightly different things. When one company takes over another and clearly establishes itself as the new owner, the purchase is called an acquisition. From a legal point of view, the target company ceases to exist, the buyer “swallows” the business and the buyer’s stock continues to be traded.
In the pure sense of the term, a merger happens when two firms agree to go forward as a single new company rather than remain separately owned and operated. This kind of action is more precisely referred to as a “merger of equals”. The firms are often of about the same size. Both companies’ stocks are surrendered and new company stock is issued in its place. For example, in the 1999 merger of Glaxo Wellcome and SmithKline Beecham, both firms ceased to exist when they merged, and a new company, GlaxoSmithKline, was created.
In practice, however, actual mergers of equals don’t happen very often. Usually, one company will buy another and, as part of the deal’s terms, simply allow the acquired firm to proclaim that the action is a merger of equals, even if it is technically an acquisition. Being bought out often carries negative connotations, therefore, by describing the deal euphemistically as a merger, deal makers and top managers try to make the takeover more palatable. An example of this would be the takeover of Chrysler by Daimler-Benz in 1999 which was widely referred to as a merger at the time.
A purchase deal will also be called a merger when both CEOs agree that joining together is in the best interest of both of their companies. But when the deal is unfriendly (that is, when the target company does not want to be purchased) it is always regarded as an acquisition.
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