Noted: Goldman sees more utilities M&A

Goldman Sachs analysts say M&A among Europe’s utilities is likely to pick up this year, and name Britain’s Shanks, Drax, International Power, the country’s water companies (Severn Trent, Northumbrian Water, Pennon and United Utilities), and Edison of Italy as the most likely targets. (Shanks, of course, is already in the Carlyle Group’s crosshairs.)

The Goldman team looked at company ownership; the political and regulatory backdrop; and the firms’ sizes and relative valuations to come up with its top picks.

From the note, dated Jan 7:

“We believe M&A activity will pick up over the course of 2010 as current market valuations provide a once-in-a-cycle opportunity for potential acquirers, current economic weakness is likely to accelerate sector consolidation and private equity firms are likely to deploy capital as credit markets open up …

“However, we expect the bulk of M&A activity to continue to come through disposals, as companies seek to strengthen their balance sheets, mainly to avoid credit rating downgrades as a result of their high gearing levels.”

Noted: Financial M&A drivers for 2010

Across the different bits of financial services – such as fund management, broker-dealers, insurance, and trading systems – mergers and acquisitions fell sharply in 2009. But Freeman & Co outlines 10 drivers that should make this a busier year for dealmaking:

“1. Banks and insurance companies continue to assess whether their asset management units
are core to their business, especially those that have stand alone brands or are in non-core

2. Large transformational asset management deals will diminish, but deals in the $3-30 billion
AUM range will increase from current lows

Noted: Europe SA on the takeover trail?

A poll from UBS and the Boston Consulting Group finds a “surprisingly healthy” one in five European companies is likely to make a significant (EUR 500 mln+ in sales) acquisition in 2010. Some of the other key findings:

“Corporates are seeking growth: Strategic and growth-related considerations such as expansion of product offering, access to new geographies and access to new customers and distribution channels were the three most cited drivers of M&A activity, from a choice of 12 drivers.

“Lack of attractive targets and company valuations are main M&A barriers: Lack of attractive targets (cited by 40% of respondents) and, reflecting the speed and extent of stock markets’ recovery, high valuations (cited by 39% of
respondents) were the most commonly cited barriers to M&A.

Noted: Why BHP won’t revisit Rio

The year-long ban BHP Billiton has had on revisiting a takeover of rival miner Rio Tinto will soon end, but it seems as if the moment has passed. Liberum and Investec said earlier this week that most of the synergies were captured anyway by the duo’s iron-ore joint venture.  If regulators nix that deal, analysts say a full takeover could be back on — but how that would pass muster if a JV doesn’t is not clear. On Friday, Credit Suisse joined the chorus of disapproval, saying a takeover would cut BHP’s return on equity (ROE) in half. From the CS note:

“We have re-run the numbers on an all scrip BHP Billiton takeover of Rio Tinto at a 30% premium (2.3 BHP shares for each RIO share). We see such a deal as materially EPS dilutive (by 12% even after year 3) and would significantly decrease BHP’s return on equity (from 25% to 12%).

“We do not see BHP making another takeover offer for RIO because: (i) The iron ore JV should capture many of the synergy benefits expected from the possible merger. (ii) If the iron ore JV fails on account of not passing regulatory hurdles similarly then we do not see a takeover receiving regulatory passage. (iii) We do not foresee shareholder support for the deal (and any such deal would use BHP script) with the potential EPS dilution and ROE erosion significant. (iv) Non-availability of sufficient credit facilities.

Noted: 1 in 3 on acquisition trail, E&Y says

ey-capital-matters-graphA large Ernst & Young (E&Y) survey finds plenty of appetite for acquisitions, but also finds many companies feel constrained in their dealmaking, and one in 25 is simply “focused on survival”:

“Most companies believe the time is ripe for deals, but only one third have the strength and agility to snap up “once-in-a-lifetime” acquisition opportunities in the wake of the credit crisis, according to a global survey.

Ernst & Young, which quizzed 490 top executives from “major industry players” across 32 countries, said 33 percent were likely or highly likely to buy firms in the next 12 months, with 25 percent expecting to bid in the next six months. There were no data on the size of possible targets.”

Noted: JPM and “Merger Mondays” to come

Richard Bove at Rochdale says JPMorgan is in pole position to benefit from a surge in dealmaking:

“A core theme in our banking thesis is that “Merger Monday” is back.

“There could be a surge in merger and acquisition (M&A) activity that may last two to three years. The dollar is weakening, the yield on junk bonds has plummeted, and the stock market is quite strong. The money is available. No company is better positioned to take advantage of this development than J.P. Morgan.”

Bove says JPM has tens of thousands of middle-market clients as well as long-standing relationships with the biggest U.S. companies, such as Mars and Black and Decker.

Noted: Deutsche sees M&A “wave”

Like UBS and Societe Generale, Deutsche Bank’s researchers are now forecasting a resurgence in M&A and say investors should “prepare to ride the wave”.

They concede that “picking actual as opposed to potential M&A targets is a notoriously difficult exercise” but have come up with 30 potential European targets, based on strategic and financial criteria. While bank lending remains a problem, they say that is not always an insurmountable hurdle, and should spur more stock-based deals (see graph below).

In a note dated Nov. 4, the DB team writes:

“Following two years of below-normal levels of merger and acquisition (M&A) activity in Europe, we believe the conditions are in place for deals to return to the fore as a major driver of returns: Public markets are well and truly open for financing, low organic growth should spur expansion by acquisition, rising equity markets and sub-peak valuations make stock an attractive acquisition currency, and confidence is returning to boardrooms and executive offices.”

Noted: Resources M&A to pick up, Deloitte says

Deloitte’s Energy and Resources group says M&A in these sectors could return to “pre-recession levels” by 2011. In particular, it says the rise of big state-backed rivals is putting pressure on large mining groups, in much the same way Big Oil came under pressure a decade ago. From the group’s 2010 predictions report:

“During 2009, mining M&A has been led by the junior or mid-level players, which have to consolidate if they want to stay alive and not be swallowed up by the bigger firms. Indeed, many anticipate that the mining sector will continue to consolidate until there are a handful of supermajor firms like there are in oil & gas.

“Large mining companies will increasingly need to buy rivals and subsequently sell off assets to gain synergies if they are to compete with state-owned companies, particularly those from China.

Noted: UBS sees 15% M&A rebound next year

Like SocGen before them, UBS strategists are looking forward to a pickup in M&A next year. ubs-ma-as-percentage-of-global-market-cap

From a note published on Monday:

“We expect 2009 to mark the trough in global M&A transactions and for activity to pick up in 2010 and beyond. For FY2010, globally we expect M&A activity in the region of $2.5-2.7trl, an increase of 15% on current annualised run rate for 2009 and close to levels last seen in mid 2004-05. The biggest driver of an increase in activity is likely to be the increase in risk appetite in equity markets and in the boardroom, a return to earnings growth and profitability by World Inc and a backlog of pending asset disposals.”

“Credit conditions are also supportive and we expect private equity and bank lending to pick up at some point next year.”

Noted: Should Tesco stop & shop for Ahold?

Could buying the undervalued Dutch retailer Ahold, which operates U.S. brands including Stop & Shop, make sense for Tesco?

ING analysts Peter Brockwell and John David Roeg think there is a “compelling strategic logic” for a deal.

The pair say buying Ahold’s established U.S. business would be a way of quickly turning round Tesco’s fledgling, and loss-making, business Fresh & Easy, with Tesco funding a deal with cash, shares and disposals.