After a busy month of M&A activity in September, October activity slowed substantially. Like Romeo and Juliet, star-crossed buyers and sellers had a difficult time cementing relationships and consummating transactions.

Thirteen transactions were announced—the smallest monthly figure all year (and well short of the 21 in October 2009). From Aug. 1 through Oct. 31, 50 deals were announced. The market barometer now stands at 181—just five deals shy of all of 2009. M&A activity this year will clearly surpass 2009, but it won’t set any records.

For the first time in the history of the Big Deal, only one buyer group was active in October: insurance brokerages. Although the other buyer groups have been less active since 2009, there has never been a month in which at least one bank, carrier, conglomerate or private equity firm didn’t acquire a brokerage in a single month.

The end to the soft market remains elusive and continues to drive consolidation among brokerages. Each month we continue to see new insurance brokerage buyers among the consolidators. In October alone, five new buyers found their names on the Scorecard.

One agency category decreasing in popularity the past several months is employee benefits firms. Many firms realize the future business model of the employee benefits brokerage is in transition. Waiting for finalization on healthcare reform was just the first stumbling block in benefits M&A. Even with passage, a little clarity hasn’t eliminated all the uncertainty. The general consensus is that benefits firms focused on large-group accounts (greater than 100 employees) won’t be affected as much as benefits firms focusing on small-group accounts, those with fewer than 50 employees. Nonetheless, benefits firms of all sizes and focus will face challenges. The deal count doesn’t show it yet, but consolidation among benefits firms will increase when 1+1=3 for some faced with myriad legislative and operative changes. For benefits firms that do not or cannot adapt, 1+0 might = 0.

Brown & Brown (B&B) leapt to number one on the Scorecard with 17 deals, three of which were in October. Both employee benefits acquisitions this month were by B&B. Arthur J. Gallagher is ranked second with a year-to-date deal count of 14. Hub International picked up another deal, bringing its total count to nine. Joining the ranks of fourth place and having acquired three brokerages is Integro, which acquired ReSource Intermediaries, a California-based reinsurance advisory and brokerage firm with an expertise in healthcare. R-T Specialty, the wholesale brokerage unit of Ryan Specialty Group, made its second acquisition, buying Florida-based McAuley Woods & Associates, one of two wholesale deals this month. Silent since April, Ascension Insurance acquired Kansas-based Summit America Insurance, specializing in educational, recreational and sports markets.

Fourth-quarter M&A activity is off to a slow start. One driver that may affect activity is the mid-term elections’ effect on a final decision on the Bush tax cuts. Only time will tell if dealmakers will suffer the same fate as Romeo and Juliet as we approach year end.