Belfast Telegraph

American buyers to thank as Northern Ireland enjoys a jump in corporate deals

By Margaret Canning

The improving economy and the influence of Uncle Sam helped Northern Ireland to the UK's healthiest jump in big corporate deals in 2014, it's been claimed.

According to information services company Experian, Northern Ireland returned the UK's biggest year-on-year growth in volume of deals.

The number of deals grew by 11% from 88 to 98, with the biggest transactions usually involving an American buyer.

Highlights of the deal-making year include Boston insurance giant Liberty's acquisition of Hughes Insurance, the purchase of Telestack in Omagh by Astec Industries and the acquisition of Whale Pumps in Bangor by Brunswick Corporation.

And this week, Cambridge-based Aveva acquired Derry software company 8over8 for £27.9m.

John-George Willis, head of the corporate department of law firm Tughans - which acted in the Whale Pumps and Telestack deals - said the numbers grew from a low base.

But he added: "The growth certainly is a sign of an economy in growth mode, as M&A activity is always a barometer of economic health.

"There are companies with good cash balances which they are using to expand by way of acquisitions, rather than obtaining low levels of interest in the banks."

And with predominantly American firms swooping in, "Uncle Sam is reaching into his pocket".

Experian also said the number of overseas investments by UK companies grew 13% in 2014, compared to 2013.

There was increased confidence among UK businesses, and the value of transactions had doubled to £69.5bn - the highest level since 2007.

Manufacturing was the busiest sector for UK companies looking overseas, while professional, scientific and technical services, and information and communication, were the next busiest areas.

Greater London dominated the picture, and claimed nearly 42% of all deals in the UK. And while Northern Ireland had the lowest number of deals, at just 98, it had enjoyed the biggest jump on the year before in percentage terms.

Experian business development manager Wendy Driver said: "A more positive year for the economy as a whole was reflected by strong M&A activity in the UK, particularly with a significant increase in the number of high-value deals in the pharmaceuticals and telecom sectors. The improving economy and rising M&A activity are good news, but businesses considering a purchase or sale should still thoroughly research the companies they are dealing with.

"Looking into the background of the management team at a target company, any corporate risk, and getting a snapshot of the international markets they operate in can help you to make an informed decision on a potential acquisition."

Belfast Telegraph

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