Horizontal Integration: Mergers and Acquisitions

Rather than rely on their own efforts, some firms try to expand their presence in an industry by acquiring or merging with one of their rivals. This strategic move is known as horizontal integration. An acquisition takes place when one company purchases another company. Generally, the acquired company is smaller than the firm that purchases it. A merger joins two companies into one; mergers typically involve similarly sized companies. Disney was much bigger than Miramax and Pixar when it joined with these firms in 1993 and 2006, respectively. Thus, these two horizontal integration moves are considered to be acquisitions.

Example 7.4 Purchasing Market Share

Google has bought Fitbit, the smartwatch company for 2.1 billion dollars. Previously Google has dabbled in the smartwatch space by providing their Wear OS operating system to smartwatch systems. With this acquisition of Fitbit, they are also purchasing the market shares, considering they were formerly a competitor and capitalizing on the company’s brand value while combining their operating system.

Source: Business Insider, Fitbit surges 17% after Google agrees to buy the company for $2.1 billion (FIT), 2020Wi

Horizontal integration can be attractive for several reasons. In many cases, horizontal integration is aimed at lowering costs by achieving greater economies of scale. This was the reasoning behind several mergers of large oil companies including BP and Amoco in 1998, Exxon and Mobil in 1999, and Chevron and Texaco in 2001. Oil exploration and refining are expensive. Executives in charge of each of these six corporations believed that greater efficiency could be achieved by combining forces with a former rival. Considering horizontal integration alongside Porter’s five forces model highlights that such moves also reduce the intensity of rivalry in an industry and thereby make the industry more profitable.

Some purchased firms are attractive because they own strategic resources such as valuable brand names. Acquiring Tasty Baking was appealing to Flowers Foods, for example, because the name Tastykake is well known for quality in heavily populated areas of the northeastern United States. Some purchased firms have market share that is attractive.

Horizontal integration can also provide access to new distribution channels. Some observers were puzzled when Zuffa, the parent company of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), purchased rival mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion Strikeforce. UFC had such a dominant position within MMA that Strikeforce seemed to add very little for Zuffa. Unlike UFC, Strikeforce had gained exposure on network television through broadcasts on CBS and its partner Showtime. Thus acquiring Strikeforce might help Zuffa gain mainstream exposure for its product.[1]

Despite the potential benefits of mergers and acquisitions, their financial results often are very disappointing. One study found that more than 60 percent of mergers and acquisitions erodes, while fewer than one in six increases, shareholder wealth.[2] Some of these moves struggle because the cultures of the two companies cannot be meshed. This chapter’s opening vignette suggests that Disney and Pixar may be experiencing this problem. Other acquisitions fail because the buyer pays more for a target company than that company is worth and the buyer never earns back the premium it paid.

In the end, between 30 and 45 percent of mergers and acquisitions are undone, often at huge losses.[3] For example, Mattel purchased The Learning Company in 1999 for $3.6 billion and sold it a year later for $430 million—12 percent of the original purchase price. Similarly, Daimler-Benz bought Chrysler in 1998 for $37 billion. When the acquisition was undone in 2007, Daimler recouped only $1.5 billion worth of value—a mere 4 percent of what it paid. Thus, executives need to be cautious when considering using horizontal integration.

  1. Wagenheim, J. 2011, March 12. UFC buys out Strikeforce in another step toward global domination. SI.com.
  2. Henry, D. 2002, October 14. Mergers: Why most big deals don’t pay off. Businessweek, 60–70.
  3. Hitt, M. A., Harrison, J. S., & Ireland, R. D. 2001. Mergers and acquisitions: A guide to creating value for stakeholders. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.


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