NYSE-owner ICE says COVID-19 has complicated the M&A picture

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The COVID-19 pandemic has complicated merger and acquisition deal making, as social-distancing and restrictions on travel have made it harder for top executives to meet face-to-face, the head of Intercontinental Exchange Inc (ICE.N) said on Thursday.

“The COVID-19 environment has really created winners and losers in many spaces, including financial services,” ICE CEO Jeffrey Sprecher said. “We’ve had a lot of inquiries from fintech-type companies that are worried about their future funding capabilities.”

ICE, which bought the New York Stock Exchange in 2013, has grown from a small energy-trading business in 2000 to one of the world’s biggest exchange operators, with a $51.6 billion market cap, largely through acquisitions.

The most recent high-profile deal it explored was a more than $30 billion takeover of online marketplace eBay Inc (EBAY.O) that ICE abandoned in February following investor backlash.

Since then, the coronavirus pandemic has quickly spread, leading to lockdowns around the world, forcing work-from-home mandates and limiting in-person meetings.

Those measures have made it harder for chief executive officers to meet, get to know each other, and determine if their businesses would be a good fit, Sprecher said on a call with analysts.

“We’re in a great position if the right thing were to come along, but it’s a complicated environment for M&A just due to the social distancing that’s going on,” he said.

The one area where there has been a pickup in M&A activity has been with smaller private equity-owned firms that are looking to sell themselves to larger companies with deep pockets, he said.

ICE, which runs equities and futures exchanges, as well as clearinghouses and data businesses, is looking for potential acquisitions that would accelerate initiatives it is already working on, though nothing has “moved the needle” so far, he added.

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