Banks get an M&A boost

US merger and acquisition activity totalled $13.9bn (&pound;8.5bn) last week, further fuelling hopes that an appetite for deals is returning.<br /><br />A flurry of deal announcements came ahead of Labor Day, including Walt Disney&rsquo;s $4bn acquisition of Spiderman parent Marvel Entertainment and eBay&rsquo;s $2bn sale of 65 per cent of Skype to a consortium of private investors.<br /><br />The uplift in activity comes as good news for the investment banks, with Bank of America Merrill Lynch and Goldman Sachs each advising on just over $9bn of the deals in the US, according to Thomson Reuters.<br /><br />Closer to home, transport group National Express received a sweetened takeover offer of 500p per share from a consortium of private investors, led by its largest shareholder the Cosmen family, on Thursday.<br /><br />National Express said that it would respond to the offer, which values the firm as &pound;765m, in due course. The announcement was accompanied by a statement from rival Stagecoach, which said it had agreed in principal to buy National Express&rsquo;s UK bus and rail operations from the consortium if the bid succeeds.<br /><br />The offer brings year-to-date UK private equity-backed M&amp;A activity to $6.3bn, still 73 per cent down year-on-year.<br /><br />Earlier last week, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said that the number of domestic M&amp;A in the UK fell to a 40-year low of 41 in the second quarter of the year.<br /><br />Foreign companies spent &pound;400m for M&amp;A in the UK in the second quarter, down from &pound;12.3bn in the first, the lowest level since the second quarter of 1987.<br /><br />Also last week, Dainippon Sumitomo Pharma agreed to buy US firm Sepracor for $2.6bn, the latest in a string of overseas acquisitions by Japanese pharmaceuticals firms.