Tughans celebrates after winning 25% of Northern Ireland's major corporate deals last year
Belfast commercial law firm Tughans is celebrating after claiming 25% of major corporate deals in Northern Ireland in 2015, as notified to mergers and acquisitions information company Experian.
John-George Willis, the head of the firm's corporate department, said the firm had been involved in 37 deals - far ahead of the firm claiming the next biggest share, at 27.
Managing Partner Patrick Brown said the success of 2015 "is testament to the quality of our lawyers and ambition of our clients both locally and internationally, and with the continued recovery in the Northern Ireland economy 2016 is also looking positive".
The firm dealt with a quarter of all of Northern Ireland's corporate transactions above £500,000 and property deals worth more than £15m.
The Experian report showed that the number of substantial business deals involving Northern Ireland companies increased by more than 50% last year, with 165 transactions in 2015 compared to 104 in 2014. The value of transactions recorded rose from around £1.72bn in 2014 to £1.88bn.
But it doesn't quite reflect the true size of the market, as a large number of deals were confidential.
John-George Willis said: "Having experienced what was in retrospect a challenging year, we are delighted with claiming that slice of the market.
"The market was strong and we had a large market share of mid-size and large transactions in both corporate and property.
"Most involved our existing clients and were a mixture of acquisitions and disposals."
The deals included a cash injection from Lyceum Capital for TotalMobile. Solmatix was sold to Harvey Group; Sawyers Transport was sold to AGRO Merchants Group, which is owned by US fund Oaktree Capital Management.
Smurfit Kappa also exited its Lisburn operation - another deal which Tughans can claim.
And it's not just companies themselves which are proving attractive assets, John-George said.
"Also notable is that the management teams in both TotalMobile and Sawyers will remain to provide the business with their knowledge and experience, to grow them both exponentially.
"These aren't just significant investments in companies by private equity houses, but they are also investments in really good management teams."
The new owners of Sawyers intend to proactively assist in its continued growth using the know-how of its management team. "It's fascinating to think that 50 lorries arrive in Sawyers' yard from England every evening with frozen food to be distributed around Tesco in Ireland.
"So we are really seeing investments where the investor wants to use an effective management team to really enlarge the existing operation."
There was also a steady stream of construction-related deals.
"P Clarke and Sons was bought over by FP McCann, which also acquired Buchan Concrete Products in England.
"That's part of the whole trend of our larger construction firms building themselves up in the UK. At home, we've also had H&J Martin join the Lagan Construction Group of companies."
UK and US private equity companies are active, he said. "We also have US companies with cash on their balance sheets that are all ready to invest.
"Part of the story there is that the valuation placed on local companies with cash-generative businesses has been traditionally low, so there are bargains around.
"It means that the US and UK private equity houses realise they can pick good quality businesses, with good management teams, and good business propositions that are cash-generative, and pick them up at a better price than elsewhere."
It's also proved its mettle in property deals, including the sales of Bloomfield Shopping Centre, office building The Soloist, the Crescent Townhouse, the Showgrounds Retail Park in Omagh, Lisnagelvin Retail Park and the south-east Belfast scheme occupied by Homebase.
The firm's banking team was also involved in a major motor industry deal, when Manchester-headquartered Lookers plc acquired Benfield Motor Group for £87.5m.
All in all, Tughans is looking ahead to a great year.
Patrick Brown said: "Heading into our 120th year in business, we are already working on a number of major transactions due to complete in the first quarter of 2016.
"With a strong pipeline of instructions, we are looking forward to another year of growth for ourselves and our clients.
"As a firm we continue to develop specialist expertise to support the specific requirements of our clients as increasingly complex transactions, projects and cases require multi-disciplinary input to ensure a successful conclusion."
Tughans celebrates after winning 25% of NI's major corporate deals last year