Chapter 2 of Gilbert + Tobin’s 2021 Takeovers + Schemes Review explores which sectors made the greatest contribution to public mergers and acquisitions in 2020.

In summary:

  • Energy & resources led the way in terms of both aggregate transaction value (37%) and number of deals (33%, which was double the number of transactions in the sector compared with the previous year).
  • The financials sector saw strong public M&A activity by transaction volume.
  • Food, beverage & tobacco stood out as a key contributor to aggregate transaction value, largely due to Coca-Cola European Partners’ proposed $9.8 billion acquisition of Coca-Cola Amatil.

More on this below.

Contribution of energy & resources sector to public mergers and acquisitions

The energy & resources sector was the strongest performing sector in 2020 by both aggregate transaction value and number of transactions. This sector contributed to 37% of total deal value (up from 7% in 2019) and 33% of total deal activity.

The sector has been in decline since 2011 when commodity prices peaked, and 2014 was the last time the sector led by both deal value and activity.

In 2020, there were 14 deals in the energy & resources sector, up from seven in 2019. Significant transactions in the sector included:

  • Northern Star Resources’ successful $5.8 billion acquisition of Saracen Mineral Holdings (one of only two transactions in 2020 valued over $5 billion); and
  • SSR Mining’s successful $2.7 billion acquisition of Alacer Gold.

The existence of competing bids for Cardinal Resources from Shandong Gold, Dongshan Investments, Nord Gold and Engineers & Planners Co also showed the strength of activity in the sector.

Gold was the standout sub-sector, with nine out of the 14 energy & resources transactions involving targets involved in gold mining or exploration. A surge in gold prices during 2020 was undoubtedly a factor as the uncertainty of the pandemic provided an impetus for investors to move to the safe haven that gold and gold assets provide including a hedge against the prospect of future inflationary pressures.

energy & resources contributed to 37% of aggregate transaction value in 2020 and the 33% of the number of deals announced in 2020 were in the energy & resources sector

Other key sectors in 2020

Food, beverage and tobacco came in second by deal value (30%), with real estate coming in third (10%). Food, beverage and tobacco, however, saw a decline in deal activity with only one high-value transaction accounting for its strong performance by value, being Coca-Cola European Partners’ proposed $9.8 billion acquisition of Coca-Cola Amatil.

By number of transactions, the financials sector was the second largest contributor to transaction volume (19%) followed by the professional services sector (12%).

The proportion of deals in the healthcare sector, which in 2019 led the way by aggregate transaction value, fell from 27% of aggregate deal value in 2019 to only 4% in 2020. The number of public mergers and acquisitions transactions in the healthcare sector also declined from six transactions in 2019 to only one in 2020 (being EQT’s successful acquisition of Metlifecare by scheme of arrangement, which came after an earlier offer was withdrawn by the same acquirer who blamed the pandemic). COVID-19 undoubtedly had a significant impact on the sector, with hospitals and health systems feeling the brunt, counterintuitively, of diminished patient volumes and revenues, and increased labour and supply costs. We consider the reduced healthcare M&A is an anomaly of our data set which focuses on takeovers and schemes as there were a range of private M&A deals in the healthcare sector. We expect general interest in this sector to remain given the COVID-19 pandemic, advances in healthcare and an ageing population.

The blue bars show the contribution of each sector by number of transactions and the green bars show the proportion by total value of transactions in 2020

Top transactions by sector

The top five transactions by value in 2020 came from four different sectors:

Top 5 transactions by value 2020





Value ($)


Food, beverage & tobacco

Coca-Cola European Partners’ proposed acquisition of Coca-Cola Amatil

$9.8 billion



Energy & resources

Northern Star Resources’ successful acquisition of Saracen Mineral Holdings

$5.8 billion


Energy & resources

SSR Mining’s successful acquisition of Alacer Gold by scheme of arrangement

$2.7 billion


Real estate

ARA’ Asset Management’s successful off-market proportional takeover bid for Cromwell Property Group

$2.4 billion



EQT’s successful acquisition of Metlifecare by scheme of arrangement

$1.2 billion

Sectors of interest for foreign bidders

In 2019, there was significant foreign interest in healthcare, retail & consumer services and industrial products. The sectors of greatest interest to foreign bidders in 2020 were energy & resources (seven deals) and professional services (three deals).

In terms of value, the food, beverages & tobacco sector represented 44% of the total value of foreign bids, solely attributable to Coca-Cola European Partners’ proposed $9.8 billion acquisition of Coca-Cola Amatil. This was followed by energy & resources with 23% of foreign bids by aggregate transaction value, with seven out of 14 deals in the sector involving foreign bidders.

The blue columns show the key sectors of interest to foreign bidders in 2020 and the green columns show the corresponding data for 2019.

What mergers and acquisitions activity can we expect in 2021?

  • The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated economic pressures on the aged care sector, affected short-term demand in private hospitals and elective surgery, and has forced structural changes to the industry with increased home-care and telehealth. These factors as well as other general matters such as an ageing population, the COVID-19 pandemic and a general focus on health will likely see a resurgence of M&A activity in the health, aged care and pharmaceutical related sectors.
  • Companies which use and control data can expect to see increased activity, but also greater regulatory scrutiny as evidenced by the digital platforms inquiry and the changes to the Foreign Acquisitions and Takeovers Act 1975 (more on this in Chapter 4 Foreign bidders in public mergers and acquisitions in 2020).
  • Increased government spending in infrastructure and the move to de-carbonise economies are likely to impact the level of demand for various commodities and renewable energy companies, potentially leading to greater M&A activity in these sectors.
  • Financial services may also continue to see significant M&A activity as the large banks seek to divest assets and pressures in the wealth industry remain. The focus on AMP in recent times is a prominent example.
  • Industries affected by the pandemic such as leisure and hospitality may become the focus of M&A as economies emerge from the pandemic. This might include opportunities for distressed mergers and acquisitions if we face intermittent lockdowns and re-openings.