Record M&A results: Firm ranks top of Australasia in major league table

by Sophie Schroder13 Oct 2014
Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF) has come out on top of the latest Thomson Reuters Legal Advisor M&A League Tables, ranking first by both deal volume and total value of announced deals across Australia and NZ.

The firm also ranked second in Asia Pacific, excluding Japan, for deal volume, and sixth for deal value.

And the news just continued to get better…the tables showed that Asia Pacific’s mergers and acquisitions market experienced its strongest period of deal activity since 1980 in the first nine months of 2014, with the total value of announced deals reaching US$566.3 billion.
HSF Australian partner Rebecca Maslen-Stannage told NZ Lawyer: “It’s a great time to be an M&A lawyer”.

“It feels like more of a return to business as usual – but from a few years ago,” she says. “I think we’ve had cycle-related challenges in the past few years, and especially in the past two years we’ve been very focused on cost-cutting. But once people have done that, stabilised the business and got confidence back, they look to do strategic things.”

We’ve also seen some planets align, says Maslen-Stannage, and the availability of equity and debt at the same time meant it’s been a good period to make strategic decisions.

The partner also predicts that the current surge in activity can be sustained longer term because market conditions are continuing, the IPO pipeline is strong and a range of sectors are experiencing growth.

“We often go with the ‘Dinner Index’ (how many people are eating out). You can see what the pipeline is looking like. You’ve got to get to the restaurant early at the moment or the chicken schnitzel has run out.”
Thomson Reuters' latest league tables for Asia Pacific show that the financial sector was the Asia Pacific region’s most targeted for acquisitions in the first nine months of 2014, with more than 800 deals and a total deal value of US$98.7 billion, up from US$39.1 billion in the first nine months of 2013.
Maslen-Stannage says HSF performed particularly well on the league tables because M&A is a “real flagship” of the firm.

“We judge ourselves pretty harshly if we don’t get in on a deal,” she laughs.

And although perhaps Australia beat out its Kiwi counterparts this year in the M&A deal stakes, the lawyer says HSF was lucky that it has a tight relationship with a number of New Zealand firms which it worked on some major deals with during the past nine months, no doubt boosting it’s ranking.

She has also previously worked in advising Wesfarmers on the sale of the Australian and New Zealand underwriting operations of its insurance business (including the underwriting operations for Coles Insurance) to Insurance Australia Group for $1.845 billion last year.

“New Zealand had a great year last year with the privatisations, but I think relatively speaking Australia lifted this year, which meant we were more likely to rank higher up the table.”
HSF’s deals with NZ involvement for the first nine months of 2014 include:
  • Perpetual Limited’s sale of The New Zealand Guardian Trust Company Limited in New Zealand to Complectus Limited for NZ$68.5 million.
  • HSF acted for Snowy Hydro Ltd in its A$605m acquisition of NZ firm Infratil’s Australian Energy Market Assets, including the retailer Lumo.
HSF major Australasian deals for the first nine months of 2014 include advising:
  • David Jones on a proposed A$2.15 billion takeover by South Africa-based Woolworths;
  • PanAust in its response to the A$1.5 billion takeover proposal from Guandong Rising;
  • Goodman Fielder regarding its A$1.4 billion Scheme of Arrangement with Wilmar and First Pacific;
  • UGL Limited on the A$1.215 billion sale of DTZ.