Risk Arbitrage

Updated on January 5, 2024
Article byGayatri Ailani
Reviewed byDheeraj Vaidya, CFA, FRM

What Is Risk Arbitrage?

Risk Arbitrage, commonly referred to as merger arbitrage, is an investment strategy to capitalize on the price differentials that emerge when one company acquires another. The goal is to profit from the price difference in a company’s shares before and after an acquisition is announced.

What Is Risk Arbitrage

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Risk arbitrage provides diversification benefits by being less sensitive to broader market movements, helping investors reduce overall portfolio risk. Furthermore, purchasing shares below the acquisition price limits downside risk, contributing to a strategy that balances potential gains with a measure of protection against market fluctuations.

Key Takeaways

  • Risk arbitrage meaning refers to an investment strategy that aims to generate profits by taking advantage of the price discrepancies that arise during a company’s acquisition by another.
  • It involves exploiting market inefficiencies to make a low-risk profit. In contrast, risk arbitrage involves taking a position based on the expected outcome of a corporate event and involves market risk.
  • It can use various hedging techniques, such as short selling or options trading, to mitigate risk and protect their positions. It can help to reduce the impact of unexpected events, such as the deal falling through.

Risk Arbitrage Explained

Risk arbitrage involves investing in the stock of a company that is the target of a merger or acquisition with the expectation of making a profit from the difference between the current stock price and the price the acquiring company has agreed to pay for the target company.

Investors often look for companies that are rumored to be potential acquisition targets or are actively seeking a buyer. Once a potential target company is identified, the investor analyzes the terms of the merger or acquisition, including the price to be paid for the target company, any regulatory approvals required, and the timeline for completion.

If the investor believes that the acquisition is likely to be completed, they purchase shares of the target company at a price lower than the acquisition price. The investor holds the shares until the merger or acquisition is completed, which can take several months. Investors assess the potential for profit by monitoring the risk arbitrage spread, which is the difference between the current stock price of the target company and the acquisition price agreed upon by the acquiring company.

The general outline of the process is as follows:

  • Investors typically identify target companies by monitoring news reports, industry rumors, and other sources of information.
  • The investor conducts due diligence on the merger or acquisition to understand the terms, regulatory requirements, and the likelihood of the deal closing.
  • If the investor believes that the deal is likely to close, they purchase shares of the target company in the market.
  • The investor closely monitors the progress of the merger and acquisition process, including regulatory approvals and other milestones.
  • Once the deal is completed, the investor sells the shares for a profit.

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Let us look at the examples to understand the concept better:

Example #1

Suppose that company ABC, a pharmaceutical company, announces that it will be acquired by company XYZ, a larger pharmaceutical company, for $50 per share. The current market price of ABC’s shares is $45 per share. An investor believes that the acquisition is likely to be completed and decides to use a risk arbitrage investing strategy to profit from the difference between the current price and the acquisition price.

The investor purchases 1,000 shares of ABC at $45 per share, investing $45,000. The investor waits for the completion of the merger, which is expected to take six months, and monitors the progress of the deal. If the deal is completed, the investor will receive $50 per share, generating a profit of $5 per share.

Six months later, the merger was completed, and the investor sold their shares of ABC at $50 per share, generating $50,000. After deducting the initial investment of $45,000, the investor has made a profit of $5,000.

Example #2

In 2020, Gilead Sciences announced its acquisition of Forty Seven, a clinical-stage immuno-oncology company, for $4.9 billion, or $95.50 per share. The announcement caused Forty-Seven’s stock price to surge from around $27 to over $93.

An investor who believed that the acquisition was likely to be completed could have used risk arbitrage to profit from the price differential between the current market price and the acquisition price. Suppose an investor purchased 1,000 shares of Forty Seven at $90 per share, investing a total of $90,000. The investor would have waited for the completion of the acquisition, which was expected to take several months, and monitored the progress of the deal.

Several months later, the acquisition was completed, and the investor received $95.50 per share, generating a profit of $5.50 per share. The investor sold their shares for $95,500, resulting in a profit of $5,500 after deducting the initial investment of $90,000.


The advantages of risk arbitrage are as follows:

  • It can offer the potential for high returns, especially if the investor is successful in identifying profitable opportunities and managing risks effectively.
  • It has a low correlation with other asset classes, such as stocks and bonds, which means that it can provide additional diversification benefits to a portfolio.
  • In some cases, it can increase the liquidity of the market by encouraging more trading activity, which can benefit other investors and market participants.
  • Its investments typically have shorter holding periods compared to other investments, such as stocks or bonds. It allows investors to generate profits more quickly, potentially increasing the overall return on investment.

Risk Arbitrage vs Pure Arbitrage

The difference between risk arbitrage and pure arbitrage is as follows: 

  • Pure arbitrage involves buying and selling the same asset simultaneously in different markets to profit from price discrepancies, with no risk involved. On the other hand, risk arbitrage involves buying shares of a company that is the target of a merger or acquisition and then selling them after the completion of the deal to profit from the price differential, with some level of risk involved.
  • Pure arbitrage is a short-term strategy that involves buying and selling the same asset simultaneously. In contrast, risk arbitrage involves holding the asset for a more extended period, typically until the completion of the merger or acquisition.
  • Pure arbitrage typically involves smaller profit margins due to the low risk involved, while risk arbitrage can offer higher profit margins due to the potential risks involved.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. Is risk arbitrage suitable for all investors?

It may only be suitable for some investors as it requires a deep understanding of financial markets and deal dynamics and the ability to assess the likelihood of acquisition completion accurately. The strategy involves inherent risks related to dealing with uncertainty, regulatory hurdles, and market fluctuations, making it more complex than traditional investment approaches. Potential participants should carefully consider their risk tolerance and conduct thorough research before engaging in risk arbitrage.

2. What are the risks associated with risk arbitrage?

The risks associated include the uncertainty of deal completion, regulatory hurdles, and market fluctuations. Investors face the challenge of accurately predicting whether the acquisition will be successfully finalized, and unexpected events or changes in deal terms can impact the profitability of the strategy. Careful due diligence and risk management are crucial to navigating these uncertainties and minimizing potential losses.

3. How does risk arbitrage contribute to portfolio diversification?

It contributes to portfolio diversification by offering a strategy less correlated with broader market movements. As it involves profiting from specific corporate events, such as mergers and acquisitions, its performance may be influenced by factors different from traditional assets like stocks and bonds. Including it in a portfolio can reduce overall risk exposure and potentially enhance returns through a source with distinct market dynamics.

This article has been a guide to what is Risk Arbitrage. Here, we compare it with pure arbitrage, and explain its examples, advantages, and disadvantages. You may also take a look at the useful articles below –

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