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Big Deals of 2018 Skyrocket in Arkansas by 267 PercentLock Icon

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The value of big deals in Arkansas leaped to $53.9 billion in 2018, a 267 percent increase over the $14.7 billion figure of 2017, bearing out last year’s predictions that corporate tax cuts would boost mergers and acquisitions.

The volume of big deals — those valued at $9 million or more — also surged, from 66 in 2017 to 94 in 2018.

“The M&A market was very good in 2018,” said Marshall McKissack, who heads the mergers and acquisitions practice at Stephens Inc. of Little Rock. The tax cut “boosted a lot of business owner and investor confidence, and I think we saw that in the market, all the way through the third quarter,” he said.

The biggest deals total was amplified by four deals of $6 billion or more. The top two of those were Walmart transactions: at No. 1, its purchase of a 77 percent stake in Flipkart, India’s largest online retailer, for $16 billion, and at No. 2, Walmart’s sale of Asda, its U.K. grocery subsidiary, in a deal valued at $10 billion.

Also looming large on the list was Acxiom’s sale of its Acxiom Marketing Solutions division, its biggest line of business, to the Interpublic Group of Cos. for $2.3 billion. But among the biggest Arkansas deals last year are two that don’t figure in the total because their value wasn’t released: the purchase by poultry producer George’s Inc. of Springdale of Ozark Mountain Poultry Inc. and the purchase by Baptist Health of Little Rock of Sparks Health System.

OMP, a Rogers company that produces antibiotic free and non-GMO chicken products and employs 1,800, ranked No. 35 on Arkansas Business’ private companies list, with revenue of $332 million. Its purchase by George’s, announced in September, likely totaled hundreds of millions of dollars.

In buying Sparks from publicly traded Community Health Systems Inc. of Franklin, Tennessee, Baptist Health acquired Sparks Regional Medical Center in Fort Smith and Sparks Medical Center in Van Buren, along with affiliated physicians’ clinics in western Arkansas and eastern Oklahoma. The financial details of the deal weren’t released but observers have estimated the value at about $100 million.

In addition to Flipkart, Walmart’s biggest buy ever, the company made other big purchases last year. It paid $225 million for Cornershop, an online marketplace for on-demand delivery from food purveyors and pharmacies in Mexico and Chile; $100 million for Eloquii, an online retailer of plus-sized women’s clothing; and undisclosed sums for Bare Necessities, an online retailer of women’s lingerie, and Art.com, an online seller of art and wall decor.

The Bentonville retailer’s acquisitions last year — coming after its purchases in 2016 and 2017 of Jet, Shoebuy, Moosejaw, Modcloth and Bonobos — show it remains committed to competing with Amazon for online dollars.

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The Biggest Deals of 2018, ranked by value. Includes buyer and seller, price, description and month announced.

Tyson Foods of Springdale also went on a spending spree last year, paying $2.2 billion for Keystone Foods, a supplier of chicken nuggets to McDonald’s; $850 million for the poultry rendering and blending assets of American Proteins and its subsidiary, AMPRO Products; $382 million for Tecumseh Poultry; and an undisclosed sum for three commercial grain elevators.

But the poultry producer also made some big sales of business lines last year. It sold its Sara Lee Frozen Bakery and Van’s brands to Kohlberg, a private equity company, for $615 million and its Circle Foods LLC, a distributor of Mexican food products, for $48 million.

Referring to the 2017 corporate tax cuts, McKissack said, “I think what it really did was push companies and owners of businesses to really think about … what kind of returns they need to generate. Ultimately, it’s produced more bottom-line cash flow.”

And that, he said, caused companies to consider how they’d spend that cash. They’ve focused on several fronts, among them, internal capital projects and research and development programs; workforce wage increases and bonuses; and M&A, joint venture partnerships and minority investments, “really looking for opportunities for growth,” McKissack said.

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