Northern Ireland had its highest number of mergers and acquisitions (M&A) and other corporate deals in a decade during 2013, according to a new report.
The corporate market witnessed 78 transactions worth £1.6bn throughout 2013, Experian's deal review and adviser league tables for 2013 reported.
Business advisers BDO, in Belfast, claimed the largest proportion of the deals with 11 under its belt, while A&L Goodbody was the law firm with the biggest share at 28.
Data company Experian said the growth was largely down to a spike in activity in the last quarter of the year. The winter witnessed 30 transactions – another 10-year high – including big property transactions like the disposal of two Tesco Extra Stores by Turkington Holdings,and the acquisition of Hilden Properties by British Land Company.
BDO said their 11 deals were worth a total of £90m, and included helping Balcas raise funds from the Green Investment Bank, advising FP McCann on the acquisition of Charcon Specialist Products in Great Britain, and advising Hilden Properties in Hillsborough on its sale to British Land Company plc.
Francis Martin, the firm's corporate finance partner, said: "We are delighted to be Northern Ireland's most active adviser for 2013.
"During 2013 we advised on twice as many deals as in 2012 which is a reflection of confidence that is returning to the merger and acquisition market."
He said the high levels of activity recorded in the last quarter "gives us optimism for even higher levels of activity during 2014".
Improving economies and deal opportunities in Great Britain and the Republic would also increase activity, he said.
He added: "While most of BDO's deals in 2013 represented raising finance or making acquisitions, with the renewed activity in the market we expect to see vendors return to the market in 2014.
"Although traditional M&A has returned to dominate the market, BDO still expect that a number of transactions in 2014 will originate from highly geared distressed situations and this will be further fuelled by some local lenders' desire to further reduce their loan books."
A&L Goodbody Solicitors (see My View, right) was also celebrating after its 28 deals – worth £1.099bn, prompted Experian to describe it as "the most prolific legal adviser in Northern Ireland".
Ian Coulter, managing partner at law firm Tughans – number four on Experian's top 10 of legal advisers – and an expert on mergers and acquisitions, said the 78 deals mentioned by Experian did not represent all corporate deals in Northern Ireland.
Many deals took place below the radar, he explained.
"The large majority that we are involved in are never actually announced," he said. "More people were considering selling their businesses because the 'multipliers' – the amounts they expected to get – were going up.
"There is good investment confidence among those looking to sell outside Northern Ireland and those looking to buy companies inside Northern Ireland."
Some of the most high-profile deals of the year involved the IT sector, including Intel Corp's $120m (£80m) acquisition of Aepona and Capita plc's £65m play for Northgate Managed Services.
Factors likely to increase M&A activity, according to BDO:
* Northern Ireland banks returning to lending in the corporate market
* Increased supply of alternative forms of finance
* Continued record low interest rate levels
* Increased appetite for deals in Northern Ireland by traditional British based mid-market private equity
* Continued support from Invest NI