The pace quickens for London’s investment bankers

David Hellier
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Maybe it was the news that Tony Blair had intervened to reignite the City’s biggest takeover of the year.

Maybe it’s just the natural gathering pace of autumn, when business tends to hot up.

Or maybe it’s the raw fear of job losses or even the hope of a more stable Eurozone backdrop.

Whatever the reason, London’s investment bankers seem to have found more of a reason to get up in the morning right now.

The breakthrough in the Glencore/Xstrata deal is real and should see a deal happen eventually even if the terms are revisited marginally again.

There are countless bankers working on the Glencore/Xstrata deal but all apart from Michael Klein and Blair seemed powerless to break a long and damaging deadlock between Ivan Glasenberg, the Glencore chief executive, and his largest shareholder, the Qataris.

Just prior to that came news of a proposed merger between soft drinks group Britvic, advised by Citi’s David Wormsley, who also features on the Glencore/Xstrata deal and AG Barr, advised by Rothschild.

Then this week came the unexpected news of the proposed merger between BAE and EADS.

Not only is the re-emergence of M&A activity a boon for the big investment houses at a time when their costs are under ever increasing scrutiny, there appears to be a healthy presence on mandates for the boutqiue banks.

This follows a trend that earlier this year convinced investor Nelson Peltz to take a stake in Lazard, with Greenhill also active on several deals.

Gleacher Shacklock is one of three banks advising BAE – along with Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley.

On the other side of the deal Evercore and Perella Weinberg are advising EADS and Lazard/BNP are advising the same company on French-related issues.

While there’s evidence of this nature for a return to business in M&A for established businesses, the same can not yet be said of London’s new issues market which has been virtually dormant all year.

That’s why today’s launch of the RBS sale via the public markets of a stake in Direct Line insurance is so significant.

RBS has maintained that it wants to sell Direct Line via an IPO process rather than via a trade sale, which might be easier to achieve but would n’t look too good if it turned out in a few years’ time to have been done at a knockdown price.

The IPO route, though, is fraught with danger, with UK investors having staged a buyers’ strike for most of this year and a good part of last and only seemingly interested in buying stock at a knock-down price.

No wonder the banks are contemplating issuing shares at a price that would value Direct Line at £1.5bn, half its book value.

London, and its bankers, needs this one to succeed.