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Publication date: 5 March 2018

Massimo Florio, Matteo Ferraris and Daniela Vandone

This paper looks at state-owned enterprises (SOEs) from the angle of the market for corporate control and analyzes in detail the reported rationales of a sample of 355…




This paper looks at state-owned enterprises (SOEs) from the angle of the market for corporate control and analyzes in detail the reported rationales of a sample of 355 mergers and acquisition (M&A) deals performed by SOEs as acquirers over the period 2002-2012. The purpose of this paper, after having created a taxonomy of deal motivations, is to empirically test two alternative hypotheses: deviation vs convergence of M&A deal rationales between state-owned and private enterprises.


The data set is obtained by combining firm-level information from two sources, Zephyr and Orbis (Bureau Van Dijk). A recursive algorithm is developed to infer the ownership nature of the enterprises at the time the deal took place and then the authors double-checked the identity of the global ultimate owner by visual inspection of all the available information. Motivations are analyzed through a case-by-case analysis and classified into several categories, thereby providing a taxonomy of rationales behind SOE M&As and discussing their differences and similarities relative to private firms.


More than 60 percent of the deals performed by SOEs as acquirers are driven by “shareholder value maximization” motives, similarly to private enterprise acquirers. The other 40 percent of deals are almost equally spread among three rationales that specifically relate to the role of modern state capitalism in the economy. “Financial distress” motivation, which is the only one clearly deviating from the objectives of profit maximization typical of private ownership, is far less important than the others.

Research limitations/implications

The paper does not analyze the case studies in detail. Neither does it correlate the evidence with the quality of corporate governance or the quality of institutions in the country. This would be interesting in order to discover whether the alignment of objectives between public and private enterprises is enhanced by certain features of public sector management, as suggested by the OECD (2015) Guidelines.

Practical implications

The paper suggests some policy implications in terms of reforms of the corporate governance of the SOEs and accountability of their management against clearly stated public missions. It also calls for the need for citizens to be informed in a transparent way about the rationales of major M&A deals when a SOE is on the acquirer side, and the consistency of such rationales with the mission assigned by governments to the enterprises they own. Finally, it underlines that regulatory concerns raised in many countries by the rise of cross-border SOE M&As are in most of the cases unfounded.


Existing literature has mainly focused on private corporate M&A deals or has just disregarded the ownership status of the acquiring firm. This paper focuses on the motivations for SOE deals in order to elaborate a taxonomy of SOE deal rationales and to identify the differences and similarities between private corporate firms.


International Journal of Public Sector Management, vol. 31 no. 2
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 0951-3558


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