By Dan Primack
October 8, 2012

FORTUNE — It’s been a slow year for U.S. mergers and acquisitions, and things may not be turning around any time soon.

Ernst & Young today released the results of its bi-annual survey of more than global corporate executives, including more than 400 in the U.S. It found that just 23% of U.S. respondents are planning to pursue acquisitions over the next 12 months, compared to 36% who responded affirmatively in an April survey. And, of that 23%, the vast majority expects the transactions to be valued at $500 million or less (i.e., small deals).

Overall, just 48% of U.S. respondents said that they plan to deploy excess cash toward growth objectives — and, among that set, the majority favor organic growth over acquisitions.

In fact, the only foreseeable increase in U.S. M&A may relate to purchases by those from outside the country. Ernst & Young vice chairman Richard Jeanneret writes:

The US has moved up from fourth place a year ago to second among the most desirable countries in which to pursue an acquisition. One is tempted to ask whether this makes America the new ’emerging market.’ This resurgence of world’s strongest post-crisis economies, with limited but still positive growth. The relatively cheap dollar may also play a role. Or it could bolster the case that a global M&A recovery,  whenever it does arrive, will be led by the US. As boardrooms get back to basics, focusing on measures such as cost reduction and performance improvement as a means to revenue.

At the same time, however, Jeanneret writes that an 18-month “portfolio optimization” trend among U.S. companies is believed to have reached its end. So if foreign buyers want in, they’re going to have to make the first move.

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