Inside Track: For the first time since Lehman, CEOs are ready for deals

David Hellier
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Notwithstanding the fact that the US drugs group Pfizer was forced to walk away from its £69bn bid for Astrazeneca, takeover bids and deals, and even the sniff of them, are back.

Yesterday morning, Man Group, the fund management company that has been haunted in recent years by the poor performance of its previously successful futures fund AHL, revealed it was in talks to buy US fund management group Numeric.

Talks are incomplete but an announcement had to be made after investors queried stories on a hedge fund alert service. In recent months, such stories could probably have been laughed off. Today, they are likely to be genuine.

For months, investment bankers have been talking about their increasing pipeline of potential deals.

Now they are coming to fruition, on both sides of the Atlantic.

M&A in the high-tech sector has hit US$102.5bn so far this year, following Apple’s US$3bn acquisition of Beats Electronics, the producer of audio products and equipment, on Wednesday night, according to new figures from Reuters Thomson.

This marks a 67 per cent increase in activity in the sector compared to the same period last year, and the highest year to date level since the year 2000, at the end of the dot-com boom.

Bankers say that chief executives finally have the confidence to use their balance sheets after years of being haunted by the after effects of the financial crisis and then paralysed by the Eurozone crisis. Now they are freed up to be bold.

Last week I found myself in a place of unease with Lazard after suggesting that the bank, which is known as an independent adviser, had come off badly after deciding to pull the Fat Face flotation.

Better, it was suggested, to pull a flotation rather than to press ahead when the mood and the demand is poor. Bankers I spoke to seem to agree with the Lazard line, pointing out that the underperformance of some of the recently-floated companies is more disheartening for the market than the odd transaction not going ahead.

It’s more than 20 years since Sir Philip Green had a major investment in a public company. Now he’s back, with a 25 per cent stake in soon-to-be floated Mysale. When I wrote about Amber Day, the group he ran in the 1990s, he rang me and exclaimed: “I’ve put that piece under my cat’s bottom, which is where it firmly belongs (or words to that effect).” Will he be as witty/thin-skinned this time?