Belfast Telegraph

Deals slow after major acquisitions: £70m Sprucefield sale grabs headlines... but transactions are down

By Margaret Canning

Deal-making among businesses in Northern Ireland has been "relatively subdued" over the first half of 2014, according to a report by information company Experian.

Despite some headline-grabbing deals last month, Experian said its analysis suggested quieter times on the merger & acquisition front.

June witnessed two major deals in which US companies snapped up Northern Ireland outfits, with Liberty Insurance's takeover of Hughes Insurance and Brunswick Corporation's acquisition of Whale Pumps.

But Experian said the first half of the year overall had seen just 26 transactions, down from 37 in the first half of 2013. And it also compared badly with the 50 deals recorded in the second half of 2014.

However, there were some big-money deals – with the £69.8m acquisition of Sprucefield Park by Intu Properties in England the highest-value transaction.

The report said Belfast practice Tughans was the most active law firm, and acted in seven deals – including the £21.7m acquisition of Telestack in Omagh by Astec Industries in America.

John-George Willis, the head of Tughans' commercial department, said: "Tughans have experienced a marked increase in M&A and direct foreign investment activity over the initial six months of 2014, especially in transactions involving local engineering and manufacturing companies, and there's little doubt we'll see more in the next six months."

He said all the deals listed by Experian demonstrated "significant investment" in Northern Ireland's economy.

"US companies such as Astec and Brunswick aren't buying into Northern Ireland to let their newly acquired operations here tick over.

"They want to grow these operations and they want to employ more people here as they move into European markets." He said Northern Ireland was representing "value for money" for overseas investors.

"Their view is that they're getting a lot of potential growth for every dollar they invest here.

"They don't see buying here as a risky deal.

"The fact that Astec's share price rose in the back of its Tyrone acquisition backs up that view."

Financial advisors KPMG claimed the most deals in its field, at four, followed by EY at three.

KPMG head of corporate corporate finance Paul Hollway said he disagreed with Experian's assessment of a subdued market.

"We are seeing banks with real appetite to lend and clients with sufficient confidence to look at acquisitions and investments.

"However, any transaction needs to be well-structured, thought through and appropriately financed to close in the current environment."

In value terms, law firms Burstall Winger and CMS claimed joint pole position after advising on First Oil Expro's £32.3m acquisition of Antrim Resources.

The fourth-biggest deal of the year, according to Experian, was the £18.1m sale of 22.6m shares of UTV Media plc by private equity company TVC Holdings.

That amounted to a sale of 7.95% of the business though it's not clear who bought the share.

TVC Holdings is now left with a share of 10.05% in UTV Media.

TOP FIVE DEALS

* Acquisition of Sprucefield Park by Intu: £69.8m

* Acquistion of Antrim Resources by First Oil Expro: £32.3m

* Acquisition of Telestack, Omagh by Astec Industries: £21.7m

* TVC Holdings selling 7.95% share in UTV Media plc: £18.1m

* Development capital for Hills Numberplates , England (subsidiary of Boreal, Craigavon): £4m

Belfast Telegraph

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