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Northern Ireland technology sector to be at forefront of big acquisitions in 2020

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Relative stability: Russell Smyth

Relative stability: Russell Smyth

Relative stability: Russell Smyth

Activity in the Northern Ireland mergers and acquisitions market will increase this year with the technology sector set to be the busiest, according to a new survey.

KPMG's annual M&A Outlook found that 93% of respondents expect M&A activity to remain at or above 2019 levels, up from just 76% last year.

A major deal last year saw IT company Novosco sold to a German business CANCOM Group in a £70m deal.

Other large deals included UK-based energy company InfraStrata saving Harland and Wolff in a £6m purchase, Jo Bamford buying Wrightbus for £6m, and Bombardier selling its Northern Ireland operations to Spirit AeroSystems as part of a deal worth around £850m.

Around one-third (31%) of dealmakers surveyed named technology as the busiest sector for 2020, while agribusiness & food (22%) and energy & infrastructure (17%) were placed second and third respectively.

Participants noted a "definite sense of change", with 17% viewing 2020 as a sellers' market compared to 38% last year. This is markedly different from the Republic where 38% of respondents said 2020 would be a sellers' market.

Russell Smyth, deal advisory partner at KPMG, said 2020 had started with the "prospect of relative stablity" following a "turbulent" 2019. He named "a return of the devolved institutions, a stable conservative majority in Westminster and clarity that Brexit is at least going to happen" as reasons for the stablity.

He added: "That said, US trade policy, exchange rate fluctuations and the uncertain implications of Brexit will ensure strategists, and corporate dealmakers, won't have an easy time.

"The scale of available capital in the market has undoubtedly contributed to survey respondents' optimism for the year ahead, which is equally optimistic among both Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland respondents.

"Private equity involvement and the robust lending market, with ever-developing debt options, will be key enablers for deals in 2020."

A large majority (85%) said any Brexit outcome which provides more certainty or one which sees the UK leaving the EU with a deal would prompt more activity in the M&A market in 2020.

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