Kirkland tops half-year UK M&A rankings by value as deal volumes fall to four-year low

Kirkland & Ellis has topped the UK M&A deal rankings by value in the first half of 2017, in a market dominated by fewer, but higher value, deals.

Data from Mergermarket shows that the US firm advised on 20 deals worth $92bn (£71bn) to secure the top spot in the UK value table.

UK deal values nearly doubled in H1 compared to the equivalent period in 2016, rising from $48.6bn (£37.6bn) to $93.7bn (£72.6bn) this year, but deal volume fell by around 10% to 660 transactions – the lowest H1 total for the UK market since 2013.

DLA Piper topped the UK volume rankings, taking roles on 40 deals worth a total of $6.2bn (£4.8bn), just ahead of Latham & Watkins, which advised on 38 deals worth $18.2bn (£14.1bn).

Global deal value rose by 8% to $1,492bn (£1,156bn), while worldwide deal volumes slumped by 12% to 8,052 – also the lowest total for four years.

In Europe, total value jumped by 30% to $467bn (£361.9) against a 17% drop in volume.

Clifford Chance (CC) corporate head Guy Norman (pictured) said: “The first few months of the year were a bit slower in the UK. A few deals were put on hold following the election, particularly as some were hoping for a different result and a stronger mandate for the government in the context of Brexit.

“A lot of UK clients are worried about takeovers due to sterling’s devaluation, and the fact that international companies are looking to bolster slow growth at home – that’s a big driver of inbound activity.”

Kirkland M&A partner Matthew Elliott added: “We are seeing a lot of US inbound investment in Europe – Germany in particular. Looking forward, we foresee an increased focus in the financial institutions sector due to increased regulatory oversight and the consequential desire to divest capital intensive assets associated with European banks.”

Deals were put on hold following the election, particularly as some were hoping for a different result

Kirkland’s haul of deals in the first half of 2017 included advising US baby milk formula company Mead Johnson on its $17.9bn (£14.4bn) sale to Reckitt Benckiser. Kirkland is also acting for private equity groups Bain and Cinven on their €5.3bn (£4.5bn) acquisition of German pharmaceutical company Stada.

In total, US firms took eight of the top 10 spots in the H1 rankings by value, with Herbert Smith Freehills coming in fourth, buoyed by its lead role for British American Tobacco (BAT) on its $49.4bn (£40bn) takeover of Reynolds American, and Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer ranking 10th.

This is in stark contrast to H1 last year, when Freshfields topped the ranking followed by Linklaters in second place and CC in sixth.

The biggest UK deal during the first half of the year was Blackstone’s $13.8bn (£10.7bn) sale of its European warehouses and logistics business Logicor to China Investment Corporation (CIC), with CC acting for CIC and Simpson Thacher & Bartlett advising Blackstone.

Other major UK deals include the $4.6bn merger of Aberdeen Asset Management and Standard Life, which handed lead roles to Freshfields, Slaughter and May and Maclay Murray & Spens, and Tesco’s $4.5bn acquisition of food wholesale operator Booker Group. CC is acting for Tesco and Freshfields is representing Booker.

Globally, H1′s biggest deal was BAT’s Reynolds American takeover, followed by two European deals – German chemicals group Linde’s $45.5bn merger with US rival Praxair and infrastructure company Atlantia’s $33.2bn merger with Spanish rival Abertis.

Cravath Swaine & Moore – which took roles on both the Reynolds-BAT and Linde-Praxair deals – topped the global deal table by value with roles on mandates worth a total of $242.6bn (£188bn), with Skadden Arps Meagher & Flom in second place on $240bn (£186bn). Freshfields was the top-ranked UK firm in the global value table, coming in at seventh.

Commenting on market activity, Slaughters corporate head Roland Turnill said: “The UK market is relatively thin at the moment, and I would expect that to continue in the short term. Elsewhere, there are significant geographic variations. Europe is busier than it has been, the US is significantly quieter, and there have been some developments in China which tend to suggest it might be quieter for a while.”

Norman added: “I think it will still be a reasonable year for global M&A despite geopolitical challenges. Although there will be some impact from reduced dealflows out of China and in the US, corporate and other investors are still looking for growth and deals that make strategic sense.”