DealZone

Better late than never?

A giant sculpture constructed with the faces of clocks is seen outside a Paris train station

Is now the time to be bulking up in M&A and other kinds of corporate finance advice?

On Monday, Societe Generale trumpeted the hire of a top French dealmaker from JPMorgan — the auspiciously named Thierry d’Argent — and reiterated its big plans for European M&A. Daiwa Securities SMBC agreed to buy mid-market corporate finance house Close Brothers Corporate Finance. Meanwhile Barclays Capital is making lots of equity markets hires, and says it aims to be one of the world’s top full-service investment banks.

As I wrote:

“A clutch of banks with previously limited reach in European takeovers and other corporate advisory work are betting now is a good time to grab market share — before the dealmaking business recovers.

“There are experienced bankers on the job market at bargain prices after the bloodletting of the financial crisis, while others who survived the culls are restless, recruiters say.

“Advisory businesses, like the one Japanese banks bought in Britain on Monday, offer institutions the prospect of lucrative fees and follow-on work without gobbling up precious capital. But the latecomers may find they are chasing a limited pool of deals, competing with both better-established rivals and with newly emboldened boutiques fresh from their own hiring sprees.”

Did the crackdown on illegal workers cost Apollo $76.5 mln?

tomatoEuroFresh, a leading producer of greenhouse tomatoes and cucumbers, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Tuesday, partly blaming crackdowns on undocumented migrant workers for its woes.

In a bankruptcy filing in Arizona, where it is based, EuroFresh essentially said the government’s actions has raised demand for workers with legal papers, making them scarce.

“The pool of illegal immigrant labor in the area surrounding the Facilities shrank, creating higher overall demand for legal immigrant labor,” the company complained.

Barclays’ moves to escape bailout

BRITAIN-BANKS/Investors have welcomed the prospective £3bn (US$4.4 billion) sale of iShares by Barclays, which gives strong hope that the bank can avoid accepting a UK Government bailout and its implicit restrictions.

Since the deal announcement, Barclays’ shares have risen by 26 percent to 198.8p, their highest point since October, when a rescue £7.3bn financing was arranged with royal potentates from Qatar and Abu Dhabi. These Gulf investors agreed to subscribe for an effective 31percent stake through separate issues at 153.3p and 197.8p. Now, both slugs are “in the money”. However, that cash has not come cheaply.

The £4.3 billion of mandatorily convertible notes, which must be converted into shares at 153.3p by the end of June, receive a 9.75 percent coupon. And the £3 billion of reserve capital instruments pay 14 percent annually, or £420 million, for 10 years. They have warrants convertible at 197.8p.

Goldman: short East, long West?

FINANCIAL/GOLDMANSACHSFew can claim to have ever gotten very rich betting against Goldman Sachs. The bank is reported to be cutting its stake in Industrial and Commercial Bank of China and perhaps buying into exchange-traded funds provider iShares.

The Wall Street Journal reports Goldman and ICBC have been talking. Goldman’s 4.9 percent stake in ICBC is worth about $8.5 billion. The timing of a sale seems right, as a lock-up period tying Goldman’s hands ends late next month. The Journal reported Goldman could raise more than $1 billion by selling 15-20 percent of its holding.

Over the last few months, others have also beaten a retreat from China and other points East as risk aversion has grown to dizzying heights. But other financial heavyweights, notably Citigroup, had to repair tattered balance sheets, while Goldman appears to be acting from a position of relative strength. The New York Times reports Goldman plans to pay back the $10 billion it borrowed from U.S. taxpayers last fall — perhaps within the next month.

Evercore gets league table boost; Lazard left in the cold

Pfizer Inc’s $68 billion deal to buy Wyeth gave boutique investment banking firm Evercore Partners a huge jump in the rankings of merger advisers, while Lazard Ltd got left on the sidelines.

One mega-deal was enough to catapult Evercore, which advised Wyeth along with Morgan Stanley, into the list of Top 10 advisers. Evercore now stands at No. 7 for the global and U.S. rankings, up from No. 24 and No. 16 in 2008, according to data from Thomson Reuters.

Morgan Stanley stands at No. 2 globally with 15 deals, and No. 3 in the United States with 10 deals, according to Thomson Reuters.

Herd on the Street

Men herd cows and calves belonging to the Hogan family after branding near BoulderOnce upon a time, bank analysts were uniformly upbeat on investment banks. “Sell” ratings were nearly unheard of, and potholes in balance sheets were never as big as the huge, routine earnings beats. Now, with Goldman Sachs’s sector u-turn perhaps at the apex, there is plenty of mud to go around. Today’s hit list includes Barclays, the recipient of 4.5 billion pounds in balance-sheet aid this week. Citigroup says Britain’s third-biggest bank may need to raise a further 9 billion pounds and could take more significant write-downs. Lehman Brothers analyst Roger Freeman took aim at Merrill Lynch, saying the big broker will probably see $5.4 billion of write-downs in the second quarter, mainly from its exposure to monolines. Freeman raised his write-down view by $3 billion for Merrill, making his estimate the highest among Wall Street analysts.

Merger activity in the United States dropped 29 percent in the second quarter, faring better than the 40 percent global slump, as corporations filled the void left by buyout firms and targeted big consumer brands such as Anheuser-Busch and Wrigley. “Strategic buyers see an opportunity here due to the absence of the financial buyers. For the last 24 months, prior to the downturn, strategic buyers were getting outbid by financial buyers. That’s not happening now,” said Bob Filek, a partner with PricewaterhouseCoopers’ transaction services. During the first half of the year, private equity deal volume dropped 85 percent in the U.S. and 76 percent globally, according to Thomson Reuters data.

A couple more European banks have increased their China exposure. Deutsche Bank signed a deal with Shanxi Securities to set up an investment banking venture, a source with knowledge of the deal said on Friday. Deutsche planned to take 33 percent of the envisioned Beijing venture, the most allowed. Beijing this year re-opened its coveted but shuttered securities industry to foreign firms after a hiatus of more than a year to let local players merge and strengthen. Several banks, including BNP Paribas, have since expressed an interest in setting up local ventures. Chinese stock markets have shed nearly half their value this year, but foreign banks remain keen on securing a foothold there with an eye on the longer term. Royal Bank of Scotland has won approval from Chinese regulators to buy a nearly 20 percent stake in Suzhou Trust as it expands in corporate banking and wealth management services in China, sources with direct knowledge of the situation said. Suzhou Trust is a mid-sized trust and investment firm.

Qatar Hero

guitar-hero.jpgInvestors buying freshly diluted equity has become something of a refrain in Europe. Barclays raised 4.5 billion pounds ($8.8 billion) from investors including Qatar and Japan’s Sumitomo Mitsui to rebuild capital and pursue growth. That drove the London bank’s shares up more than 5 percent. Existing shareholders will get a chance to buy up to 4 billion pounds of shares at a discount, with outside “anchor” investors underwriting the fundraising. The fact that the capital raising was well-flagged and successfully completed was enough to encourage buyers.

Also rising 5 percent were shares of UBS, as the New York Post reported the Swiss banking giant has hired Lazard to conduct a strategic review, lending a touch more credence to the talk that the bank is looking to split its wealth management and investment banking businesses. UBS’s share could also be reacting to the Barclays news, which shows that sovereign wealth funds haven’t gone into hiding.

Qatar, which on Tuesday agreed to sell 25 percent of its stock market to NYSE Euronext, is in talks with London and German stock exchanges about new partnerships, according to Al Arabiya Television. Qatar, the world’s biggest exporter of liquefied natural gas, agreed to sell a stake in the Doha Securities Market for $250 million in a bid to become the booming region’s financial hub. “Qatar is in talks with the London Stock Exchange and the bourse in Germany to build new strategic partnerships,” Al Arabiya Television reported, citing Hussein al-Abdullah, executive board member for the $60 billion Qatar Investment Authority.

All aboard the Orient Express

barclays1.jpgJapan’s Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group may invest about $926 million in British bank Barclays, people familiar with the matter told Reuters, the latest in a string of subprime-hit Western lenders increasingly turning to Asia for funding. Japan’s third-largest bank is also considering a business alliance in Asia with Barclays, which is expected to raise about $8 billion from sovereign wealth funds and other investors and then offer shareholders the right to buy on the same terms. If Sumitomo Mitsui opts to invest it would give the Japanese bank a stake of just over 2 percent. Up to five outside investors are also expected to participate, and backers may include existing Singapore-based sovereign wealth fund Temasek and China Development Bank, plus the Qatar Investment Authority.

Steve Ballmer insisted Microsoft will not seek to make a spate of other Internet acquisitions (Facebook, we’re looking at you) in the wake of its failed bid for Yahoo, according to the Financial Times. “People don’t understand what they’re talking about,” Ballmer said. “At the end of the day, this is about the ad platform. This is not about just any one of the applications.” Meanwhile, over at Yahoo, a spate of executives are reported running for the hills, just as the company is trying to justify its decision to go it alone and to repel Carl Icahn’s proxy fight. Among the departed: Flickr co-creator Stuart Butterfield, whose bizarrely hilarious resignation letter could best be summed up as: “There Will Be Tin.”

The fate of the world’s largest leveraged buyout hangs in the balance ahead of Friday afternoon’s decision by the Supreme Court of Canada on whether BCE treated its bondholders unfairly in agreeing to a $34.8 billion ($34.5 billion) takeover. Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, with U.S.-based private equity firms Providence Equity Partners, Madison Dearborn Partners and Merrill Lynch Global Private Equity, are offering C$42.75 a share to take BCE, parent of Bell Canada, private.

Oiling the Barclays machine

BarclaysWhen you need some fast cash, you can always count on oil money. Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund is reportedly considering backing a share issue by Barclays. You’ll recall that earlier this week Britain’s No. 3 bank said it would sell billions of pounds worth of shares to bolster its stretched balance sheet. The Financial Times quotes a person close to the Qatar Investment Authority as saying “We’re looking at it.” The QIA manages about $60 billion in assets and earlier this year bought under 2 percent of Credit Suisse. Qatar, which is the richest Arab country on a per capita basis thanks partly to high oil prices, is looking to spend between $10 billion and $15 billion over the next two years on bank stakes, Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani told Reuters in February.

Of course, it’s not just the oil-rich out there poking around those struggling banks. Activist shareholder Olivant said on Wednesday it had raised its stake in Swiss bank UBS, which has been hit by massive losses on risky investments, to 2.5 percent. Olivant, headed by former UBS Chief Executive Luqman Arnold, said by taking a stake worth about $1.8 billion it was “demonstrating its belief in the potential restoration of shareholder value achievable through decisive action on the part of the UBS board”. Interpretation: We want change. How about splitting up the bank?

If banks aren’t your thing, there’s always Hollywood. Movie studio DreamWorks SKG is close to a deal with India’s Reliance ADA Group to form a new movie venture, the Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday, citing people familiar with the talks. The Journal said a deal with Reliance would give movie director Steven Spielberg the cash to finance his DreamWorks team’s departure from Viacom Inc’s Paramount Pictures later this year.