Here’s to some green shoots in M&A

 
David Hellier
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Now I’m not one to want to follow inadvertently in the footsteps of Shriti Vadera, who famously said she had noticed the green shoots of recovery shortly after the banking crisis had reared its head in 2009.

Vadera, who was then business minister to the Brown government, was roundly criticised for calling the recovery a touch too early when thousands of people were losing their jobs.

But I’m tempted to voice a similar opinion about the UK’s mergers and acquisitions (M&A) market.

For the first part of this year, the M&A market has been deathly quiet, leaving bankers to focus on flotations (not exactly going swimmingly, either, with many pulled), or advising companies like National Express or Kesa Electricals, working on strategies to deal with dissident investors such as Elliott Advisors or Knight Vinke respectively.

The past few weeks have borne witness to some revival in M&A. Not on the scale of last year’s epic bid for Cadbury by Kraft or even the ultimately unsuccessful bid for bank-note printer De La Rue.

Peel Holdings recently came knocking on the door for besieged Pinewood Shepperton, whose showbusiness chairman Michael Grade had been the subject of criticism from unhappy investors.

Rank has had an offer from its largest Malaysian shareholder, which recently took its stake from under 30 per cent to 40 per cent.

There’s also a £260m bid on the table for car dealer Lookers from a consortium led by the veteran property investor Jack Petchey. And yesterday a French group confirmed a takeover bid for DTZ, one of the UK’s most famous property brands.

All this is putting a bit of a spring in the step of bankers who feel that the M&A activity they so thrive on is back on the agenda again. As one banker said to me: “Private equity is looking at things again; there are some smaller companies out there struggling and are ripe for takeover and there’s definitely something bubbling away.”

Not every takeover delivers results in terms of shareholder value and there are casualties along the way, either in the boardroom or on the shop floor. Last year’s bid for Cadbury provoked a long look at takeover rules in the aftermath of the bid.

But M&A is at the heart of City life and any sign of a revival will bring a host of stories, dramas and, with luck, some economic benefits too.

STUFF OF SCHOOLBOY DREAMS

The last time Stoke City reached a football final at Wembley, I was there as a schoolboy supporting their opponents Chelsea. It was my first Wembley final (a League Cup one) and I remember well having my dreams shattered by a 2-1 Stoke win.

Thirty-nine years later Stoke are back, this time in an FA Cup Final against Manchester City, in a competition that has seen its importance diminished by a series of crass decisions by the football authorities.

FA Cup finals used to have the Saturday football programme to themselves, unimpeded by league matches taking place beforehand. Earlier rounds used to kick off at the same time. And the list goes on.

The world has moved on but the dreams of thousands of fans, some of them schoolboys or girls, from both sides remain the same. Have a great weekend.

david.hellier@cityam.com