Survey shows mergers, acquistions and firm sales on the rise since 1990.

Does it seem like there are a lot of mergers and acquisitions among A/E/P and environmental firms these days? Well, you're not imagining it.

According to the 1998 Merger & Acquisition Survey of A/E/P & Environmental Consulting Firms conducted by Natick, Mass.-based Zweig White & Associates, as many as 45 percent of the firms surveyed have been involved in a merger, acquisition or firm sale since 1990. Other findings:

The survey also revealed that 73 percent of participants would be interested in pursuing a merger, acquisition or firm sale, up from 70 percent in the 1997 survey. There was a greater increase in firms interested in making an acquisition-59 percent, up from 50 percent in 1997 and 38 percent in 1996.

Of the firms interested in making an acquisition, 59 percent have participated in a merger, acquisition or firm sale since 1990. The same percentage of firms as 1997-61 percent-said that a merger or acquisition is part of their five-year plan.

For the third year in a row, the Southeast was the hottest target area for buyers-43 percent of firms pursuing an acquisition listed this region as their preferred location. But of firms interested in selling, only 4 percent came from the Southeast.

Firms looking to buy are on average doing better financially than those looking to sell. Potential buyers had average revenues of $88 million, sellers $11 million. Potential buyers had average revenues per employee of $107,000, sellers $91,000.

Fifty-six percent of firms interested in making a purchase indicated that they would prefer to buy a smaller firm with fewer than 50 employees. This percentage is down from 68 percent in 1997. The interested buyers most often seek firms that have an expertise in the industrial (17 percent), municipal (9 percent) and commercial (9 percent) markets.

The survey respondents were mostly from the industrial (31 percent) and municipal (26 percent) markets, and developers accounted for 16 percent.

The survey included 254 firms accounting for $14.9 billion in total net revenues. The average firm had $59 million in net revenues and 335 employees. The largest firm had net revenues of $4 billion.