Skadden and Davis Polk top M&A rankings for Q1-Q3 as deal volumes fall to four-year low

Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom and Davis Polk & Wardwell have secured top spots in the M&A rankings by deal value for the first three quarters of 2017.

Figures from Mergermarket put Skadden at the top of the table by total global deal value for Q1-Q3, with Davis Polk leading the European and UK rankings after a subdued third quarter which saw global, European and UK deal volumes fall to four-year lows.

During the first nine months of the year, Skadden advised on 170 deals worth a total of $356.4bn (£268.7bn), placing it ahead of a clutch of US rivals (see table, right).

Davis Polk took first place in the UK rankings after acting on 11 deals worth a total of $101.6bn (£76.6bn), while in Europe, the US firm advised on 29 deals worth $216.4bn (£163bn).

Total global deal values and volume for the quarter were significantly down on Q3 last year, with total deal value falling 23% to $674bn (£508bn) and volume dropping 16% to 3,772, the lowest quarterly total since Q3 2013.

Skadden New York M&A head Stephen Arcano commented: “Deal activity has been healthy this year, despite some initial hesitation early in the year as the market assessed potential implications for policy, economic and regulatory changes. The pace of activity generally seemed to pick up over the course of the year.

“While deal activity has been strong, we have seen fewer of the so called ‘mega deals’ this year. For companies that are considering strategic acquisitions, it may be that it’s easier for them to move ahead notwithstanding some of the geopolitical and policy-related uncertainties if they’re not pursuing a ‘bet the company’ kind of deal.”

The total value of UK deals during the quarter was 20% down on the equivalent period last year, with just 326 deals – down 6% year on year – representing the least active quarter since Q1 2014.

Deal count in Europe, meanwhile, fell 16% year on year to 1,428, the lowest quarterly total since Q1 2013.

Only two UK firms made the top 10 European advisers by value: Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and Linklaters, while Clifford Chance (CC) and Herbert Smith Freehills secured top 10 places in the UK value rankings.

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, which was top for both European and UK M&A by value for Q1-Q3 last year, has dropped to third and 11th place respectively this year. Meanwhile, Slaughter and May fell seven places to 19th in Europe and from fourth place to 13th in the UK.

Despite this, Allen & Overy corporate co-head Richard Browne (pictured) said the market “remains very strong”. He added: “Any political or economic upheaval should theoretically have a dampening effect on the M&A markets, but there have been a lot of surprising events this year and the market has remained very stable. I’m not sure if people are more tolerant of those sort of risks being out there, but it hasn’t had a knock-on effect as yet.”

Other top performers include Kirkland, which advised on 355 global deals during the nine-month period, second only to DLA Piper on 400.

Kirkland also ranked fifth by value in Europe, having advised on 69 deals worth $133.8bn (£100.9bn) and second in the UK value rankings, after acting on 35 deals worth $94.7bn (£71.4bn).

Kirkland City corporate partner Gavin Gordon said: “We have continued to see a lot of US inbound investment in Europe, as well as a robust private equity market, both of which play to our strengths. Looking forward, the pipeline continues to feel strong, particularly in sectors like healthcare and fintech.”

The top European deal of Q1-Q3 by value was US industrial group Praxair’s $45.5bn merger with German chemicals group Linde. The deal handed lead roles to Cravath, Linklaters and Hengeler Mueller for Linde, and Sullivan & Cromwell for Praxair. Other major US acquisitions in Europe included Johnson & Johnson’s $33.1bn purchase of Switzerland’s Actelion Pharmaceuticals, which saw Slaughters, Cravath and Freshfields take key roles.

In the UK, the largest deal during the period was Blackstone’s €12.25bn (£10.7bn) sale of its European warehouses and logistics business Logicor to China Investment Corporation, which handed lead roles to CC and Simpson Thacher & Bartlett.

As well as topping the global deal volume rankings for Q1-Q3, DLA also retained the top spots for volume in Europe (254 deals) and the UK (82 deals), ahead of second-placed CMS in both instances.

DLA global corporate head Robert Bishop (pictured), said: “Although the first half this year has been better in value terms, it has been worse in volume terms and that has intensified into Q3. I think there is less opportunistic buying than there was in the second half of last year, when people were taking advantage of the weaker sterling.”