Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 September 2014

Number of corporate deals falls sharply in Northern Ireland

The sale of east Belfast's Sepha to TASI Group in the US is one of the biggest corporate deals of the year so far. Chief executive John Haran (far right), First Minister Peter Robinson and Invest NI chief executive Alastair Hamilton welcome TASI Group president and chief executive David Huberfield (second right) to Sepha on a recent visit

CORPORATE deal-making in Northern Ireland slowed down sharply in the first half of the year with the value of transactions down nearly 60% to £307m, data suggests.

Global information company Experian said their latest stats show 20 mergers and acquisitions, venture capital injections and other deals involving Northern Ireland companies between January and June – down from 24 deals worth £703m over the same time in 2012.

However, this year's figures are still up on 2011, when there were 18 deals worth £232m.

Experian said manufacturing was the most active sector and accounted for eight deals, with IT the second busiest with six.

But IT was the most valuable sector with landmarks including Intel Corp's $120m (£80m) acquisition of Aepona and Capita plc's £65m play for Northgate Managed Services.

Ian Coulter, managing partner at law firm Tughans and a specialist in mergers, acquisitions and private equity, said the prowess of manufacturing and IT were unsurprising.

"Both sectors are where Northern Ireland is strong – and where there are also multinationals with 'merger and acquisition war chests,' particularly North American tech companies."

But he said the this year's fall – and last year's spike – should not be over-analysed.

He said some of last year's deals involved multi-nationals with only a small Northern Irish element, while large property deals had also skewed values: "The drop-off is therefore not as severe as it may first appear."

Two deals in the first half of 2012 accounted for over £475m. Schrader Electronics was sold for £316.6m to a private group led by Madison Dearborn Partners.

Hermes Real Estate Investment Management paid £159m for the remaining 50% of three shopping centres – including Belfast's CastleCourt – in which it formerly had half-shares.

The sale of Sepha, which makes blister packaging machinery for the pharmaceutical industry, to America's TASI Group is thought to be manufacturing's biggest deal so far this year.

And Dublin-based fund Atlantic Bridge Ventures pumped around $3.7m (£2.5m) in funding into Sophia Search, an IT company at Belfast's Science Park.

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