What it is:
How it works (Example):
Perhaps one of the most obvious examples of industry consolidation can be seen in the evolution of public accounting over the twenty years. In 1986, nine large accounting firms dominated the industry. But in 1987, Klynveld Main Goerdeler (KMG) merged with Peat Marwick Mitchell to create KPMG Peat Marwick, reducing the number of top-tier players to the "Big Eight." Then in 1989, Ernst & Whinney merged with Arthur Young, and Deloitte Haskins & Sells merged with Touche Ross, further consolidating the industry to the "Big Six." In 1998, the merger of Price Waterhouse and Coopers & Lybrand created the "Big Five," and the dissolution of Arthur Andersen in 2002 left the "Big Four."
Another, more recent example can be found in the online brokerage business, where after several rounds of consolidation, three major competitors have emerged: E*Trade (following its acquisitions of BrownCo and HarrisDirect), Ameritrade (which recently won a bidding war for TD Waterhouse), and Charles Schwab.
Why it Matters:
One of the driving forces behind consolidation is the operating efficiencies that often arise from mergers. Because the merged entities can merge existing operating structures and reduce any overlap, there is usually an opportunity to realize significant cost savings, as well as related revenue synergies. There are numerous other reasons which might cause a company to acquire a rival, like gaining an expanded geographic reach, a larger customer base, a broader product line, etc.
Like oligopolies, duopolies, cartels, and other environments in which a few companies control all or a significant portion of an industry, consolidations alter the balance of power in an industry. Investors should carefully consider the ramifications that merger and acquisition (M&A) activity might have on the competitive landscape.