Mergers and acquisitions drop dramatically in a recession, both in terms of number and value. The aggregate value of deals in 2002, right after the 2001 recession, came to about $1.2 trillion. This figure is less than 1/2 the aggregate deal value four years earlier, in 1998, and only about 1/3 of the aggregate deal value four years later, in 2006.
But for companies that are relatively strong strategically and financially, recessions present rare opportunities to improve their competitive position through acquisitions and partnerships. According to Bain & Company's analysis of more than 24,000 transactions between 1996 and 2006, companies that made acquisitions during the last downturn (2001–02) generated almost 3 times the excess returns of companies that made acquisitions during the preceding boom. ("Excess returns" is defined as shareholder returns from four weeks before to four weeks after the deal, compared with peers.)