M&A announcements: How much confidence to convey if you are considered overconfident?

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

CEOs helming the next acquisition are commonly expected to convey confidence in the outcome of their recent strategic decision to pair up with others for the future. However, too much confidence by the CEO, also known as CEO overconfidence, can jeopardize the value-creation of deals due to a higher likelihood of overpayment: CEOs who are overconfident believe to possess superior capabilities in deriving synergy from acquisitions leading them to make higher bids than more rational CEOs.

Overconfidence is a widely spread human phenomenon. It affects humans’ belief in their capabilities and the precision of their judgment. For instance, people often believe to be better-than-average car drivers, which violates a rational conception of an average. People in powerful positions are even more prone to fall victim to overconfidence since their assignment indicates superiority by nature. Hence, it is not surprising to find overconfidence among CEOs.

In the context of mergers and acquisitions, overconfident CEOs represent a risk to shareholders. While it is common to observe the acquirer stock plummed upon acquisition announcement, this reaction is especially true for acquisitions that will be helmed by overconfident acquirer CEOs. So how do firms helmed by more overconfident CEOs communicate acquisition announcements so that investors do not start selling their shares?

We conducted a study on acquisitions by S&P500 constituents between 2014 and 2020. Using an automated linguistic analysis on acquirer press statements, we found that investors react more positively to acquisitions by overconfident CEOs if the firm’s announcement press release conveys less confidence in the deal. That represents an exciting finding since usually conveying confidence in a strategic decision represents a positive signal for investors to draw on. However, it seems that the effect depends on who is signaling the confidence. In the case of an overconfident CEO, it appears investors prefer a bit less confidence, maybe because that shows a more realistic view of a given deal, which evokes confidence in investors that the acquirer is on the right track.

While the linguistic analysis of firm communication does not represent a novelty for business analysts or researchers, the interaction of CEO characteristics (i.e., CEO overconfidence) and firm communication is currently not undergoing scrutiny. Hence, also something to be considered by marketing and public relation departments when announcing deals to the public. Considering the past performance and press portrayal of the CEO might be valuable when writing press releases.

– Jonas Röttger, ESR

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