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.”

Deals du jour

A journalist inspects a board with newspapers and magazines during the annual news conference of German publisher Axel Springer in BerlinState Street is selling $2 billion of stock, Morgan Stanley expects more listed company share sales and billionaire Kirk Kerkorian strikes his latest deal, and more. Here are the latest deal-related stories:

State Street sells stock, takes $3.7 billion charge

Morgan Stanley exec sees more follow-ons

Kerkorian buys MGM Mirage shares, stake now 42 percent

Fujitsu eyes more M&A to boost software operations

Lehman seeks OK to probe Barclays payment

Kona Grill shareholder offers to take company private

Morgan Stanley to sell remaining stake in MSCI

And in the morning papers:

The U.S. Treasury has preliminarily granted BlackRock Inc a second-recond interview to buy toxic assets from U.S. banks, using taxpayer money, the Wall Street Journal said on its website.

German retailer Arcandor AG‘s Chief Executive, Karl-Gerhard Eick, said he opposed Metro AG‘s proposal to combine the two companies’ department store chain, Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported. Reuters story here.

Last week in columns

A visitor walks inside Attalos arcade at archaeological site of Roman agora in Athens

There’s been plenty of deal-related argument from the fast-expanding stable of Reuters columnists over the last week.

Anglo-Spanish dealmaking has a chequered recent history — look no further than Ferrovial’s (FER.MC) disastrous takeover of airports operator BAA. But this shouldn’t put British Airways (BAY.L) and Iberia (IBLA.MC) off fast tracking their planned tie-up to help stem losses, says Alexander Smith.

Tech columnist Eric Auchard says while Larry Ellison, Oracle Corp’s chief executive, “is not saying so directly yet … the unmistakable conclusion to draw is that he is ready to embark on a new wave of mergers to consolidate the business computer market, once the Sun deal closes.”

Could market rebound ease way for M&A?

The drop in U.S. stocks through the first three months of 2009 did little to spur merger activity in the U.S. industrial sector, but a top executive at blue-chip manufacturer United Technologies Corp argued on Thursday that the recent rebound in share prices could spur buying.

“This recovery that we’ve seen in the market probably helps because it sets a more realistic baseline from which to negotiate,” said Greg Hayes, chief financial officer of the world’s largest maker of elevators and air conditioners, which has said it plans to be aggressive in seeking acquisitions this year. “Obviously you’d like to buy everything as cheaply as you can, but you have to be realistic. It’s probably a better market today than it was even six weeks ago.”

The rest of the year may put his thesis to the test, as the falloff in M&A activity was dramatic in the first quarter. Data from PricewaterhouseCoopers showed just 13 industrial sector deals worth a total of $1.6 billion. That’s down from 43 deals worth $8 billion in the first quarter of 2008.

from Summit Notebook:

How to gum up an exchange merger: salt water

It's a puzzle M&A bankers and corporate executives have been trying to solve for years: how far from your home market can an acquisition take place and ultimately stumble over cultural differences? It's a question that looms large as quintessentially Italian automaker Fiat prepares to swallow up Chrysler -- inventor of the K-car and the minivan -- and which reportedly haunts St Louis-based employees of Anheuser Busch in the aftermath of their company's takeover by the penny pinching Belgians and Brazilians at InBev.

Gary Katz, CEO of Deutsche Boerse unit International Securities Exchange, insisted during his appearance at the Reuters Exchanges and Trading Summit that all has been sweetness and light since the Germans assumed control of the upstart American options exchange and that there has been "nearly zero turnover" since the takeover.

But Thomas Kloet, Chief Executive of Canadian exchange powerhouse TMX, was one of several executives at the summit who insisted that cross border mergers can often be a recipe for disaster and that the ideal mergers are "domestic roll-ups" like CME Group's takeover of Nymex and the Chicago Board of Trade or indeed TSX Group's takeover of the Montreal Exchange, which created TMX.

Timing is everything, private equity finds

With the market talking of green shoots, it seems only a matter of time before the predators of the private equity world begin stalking the market again. Simon Meads and I took a look at the issue earlier today.

We found that though many private equity houses are still licking the wounds inflicted by ill-judged boom year deals, others remain keen and ready to go. Many of these firms timed it just right, either raising funds late in the credit cycle or selling companies at the top of the market.

Private equity companies in a good position include Advent International, Bridgepoint, CVC, Charterhouse, Cinven, PAI and Warburg Pincus.

(Be)league(red) tables

Preliminary first-quarter data from Thomson Reuters on mergers and acquisitions (M&A) and capital markets are out. And unsurprisingly, spring has not sprung in investment banking, with the big exception of a record deluge of corporate bonds.

Fees across investment banking (M&A, loans, and debt and equity capital markets) halved, while fees for completed M&A topped that with a 68 percent fall. Overall announced M&A fell by a third, compared to the same period last year, to $444 billion.

And even that figure is flattered by two huge pharma deals, which bankers doubt will be followed by more of the same, and a flurry of bank bailouts.

from MediaFile:

Cisco flipped for Pure Digital, but did VCs flip out?

Cisco's $590 million all-stock purchase of Flip video camera maker Pure Digital last week may sound like a nice price for the venture capital-backed company, especially given the non-existent exit market right now.

But Venture Capital Journal editor Larry Aragon writes in a PEHub blog post that the $590 million number doesn't sound that meaty when you calculate the return on investment for Pure Digital's venture capital backers. And that's especially true because some top-notch VC firms like Benchmark Capital and Sequoia Capital have invested in Pure Digital. (Venture Capital Journal and PEHub are part of Thomson Reuters.)

Aragon calculates that if Pure Digital's VC investors put in about $95 million, and assuming that they own about half the company (since it's a stock deal), "that's a return of just over 3x their money."

In a spin

Financial public relations firms, who elevated the honing of corporate messages to a highly profitable art form, are having to adapt their businesses and in some cases cut staff as the economic gloom intensifies.

With far fewer deals to publicize and lucrative “retainer” contracts under pressure, companies are cutting costs and are increasingly focusing on work thrown up by the crisis, such as capital-raising, restructuring and repairing tarnished images.”

So what exactly are they up to?

Some recent pr industry blogs and other web postings shine a light on some of the spinmeisters’ latest tactics.

from MediaFile:

Outlook grim for media and entertainment deals

Deal-making in the U.S. media and entertainment sectors is going to be down this year, says a new PricewaterhouseCoopers survey (request a copy here). Now, that's not a new or startling conclusion given the state of the economy, but it's just another piece of evidence that when consumers and advertisers get thrifty, deal makers can end up become benchwarmers as companies struggle with cost cuts and other exigencies.

Here are some industry trends for 2009 from the PWC survey:

    Declining consumer spending is hitting many media and entertainment companies. What's more, these declines were exacerbated by technological convergence, as these firms adapt to and look for ways to make money off new Internet technologies. Overall U.S. advertising market is going to shrink as sponsors cut ad budgets across retail, consumer goods, automotive, financial and other sectors. Companies will continue to divest their non-core assets, but those that don't get a good price will prefer to hold on rather than sell at bargain prices. Bolt-on deals will likely be popular for risk-averse companies, so deals below $1 billion -- mostly small and mid-market companies -- will be a rising trend. Private equity will remain quiet since the debt markets aren't really healthy yet. Deal structures will change this year, given the difficulty of getting debt financing. The strategic rationale for doing a deal will be more important than getting a favorable capital structure.

But all hope is not lost, according to PWC's Transaction Services Entertainment & Media Leader Thomas Rooney:

With M&A activity ingrained in the DNA of so many companies and the ever growing presence of private equity, E&M deal activity might not be as quiet as many expect in 2009... History has shown the E&M industry to be one of the more active M&A sectors irrespective of market and economic conditions.