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Looking at the trends behind Northern Ireland corporate deals

James Donnelly


James Donnelly

James Donnelly

James Donnelly

It's great to be busy doing deals. It creates an energy within our teams and injects confidence into the market. However, we recognise our success is built upon the drive and ambition of our clients, so for Northern Ireland to record an uplift in activity, given the particular challenges and period of uncertainty experienced by local companies, makes 2019 all the more remarkable.

Now with an Executive restored and a clearer picture of the post-Brexit landscape starting to emerge there is cause for optimism, but it is also useful to look back at the broader trends over the past five years.

There was a rise in 2015 in overall transactional activity (165) on the previous year, with manufacturing accounting for the most deals. Making headlines was the IPO of Kainos, ITV's acquisition of UTV and JBS' purchase of Moy Park. There was also significant movement in retail properties with Erneside, Bloomfield, Fairhill and Showgrounds (Omagh) complexes all changing hands.

That trend continued through to the following year as 2016 saw Junction 1, The Outlet, Damolly Retail Park and Lisnagelvin all targets of acquisitions. In terms of the volume of deals, manufacturing was once again the most significant sector with 63 and the volume of deals overall was up significantly (to 228). The sale of Delta Print and Packing would have been on people's radar, and Greencoat Capital's appetite for NI wind assets was a sign of things to come in that sector.

Food and drink marked 2017 activity including C&C Holdings' £9m acquisition of Orchard Pig Ltd in Somerset, a manufacturer of alcoholic beverages, and Moy Park again changing ownership, joining the Pilgrim's Pride Group. Wirefox Management had a busy year with the purchase of CastleCourt as well as two major assets in Scotland.

The figures for 2018 were boosted by Breedon's acquisition of Lagan Group Holdings, but once again in terms of volume manufacturing topped the table. Newry fintech giant First Derivatives completed its acquisition of 'big-data' handling firm Kx Systems.

In 2019, Spirit AeroSystems' acquisition of Short Brothers from Bombardier was by far the largest deal, but there was interesting activity in both tech and social housing sectors too. Wrightbus dominated deal headlines for a number of weeks and Novosco was acquired by German group Cancom in a £70m deal.

But what does the future hold for 2020 and beyond? Our tech companies continue to create lots of interest internationally and manufacturing will certainly feature.

We can expect a continuation of other themes in energy and agri-food also. In real estate there has been some early movement in London and the South East, which is often a precursor to more regional activity.

In addition, the success of Fusion Antibodies and Diaceutics means the appetite for considering IPOs is getting stronger.

  • James Donnelly is partner and head of corporate at law firm Tughans, named by Experian as NI's most active law firm for corporate M&A and real estate deals

Belfast Telegraph