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M&A work to increase as corporates recover

M&A work to increase as corporates recover

Australian law firms are hoping for a resurgence in mergers and acquisitions next year as Australian companies emerging from the financial crisis step up acquisitions.

AUSTRALIA law firms are hoping for a resurgence in mergers and acquisitions next year as Australian companies emerging from the financial crisis step up acquisitions.

While raising capital in the past year has been about repairing balance sheets to survive the crisis, there has been some speculation that in 2010 there will be some tapping of share markets to finance takeovers.

Tom Story, a partner at law firm Allens Arthur Robinson, said equity capital continues to be available for some corporates to pay for takeovers.

"Those corporates who have low gearing and have the capacity to pay for takeovers will be actively looking at opportunities with their advisers," he said.

"We are hoping for a broader resurgence in M&A during next year," he said.

Mergers and acquisitions by Australia-based companies are poised to fall to the lowest since 1999 this year, with $25.4 billion of transactions announced, according to Bloomberg.

Australian companies raised A$83.5 billion in secondary share sales and A$2.65 billion in IPOs in the first 10 months of 2009, the stock exchange said. Forty-five companies went public in the 12 months before 30 June, the fewest since 1993.

Some M&A has been going on, said Story, but it's been confined to particular sectors in the market, such as listed property trusts where there is "still some consolidation going on".

There has also been a lot of M&A in the resources sector this year, said Story, driven by offshore buyers from the Chinese SOEs or other offshore buyers.

Next year, though, "corporates will be working with investment banks and law firms and looking at opportunities", Story said.

On how law firms will be involved come 2010, Story said external counsel will be involved where a deal happens.

"So for actual implementation, and structuring of a deal, you would expext exernal counsel would be involed at some point. I would expect that general counsel would be more heavily involved in looking for opportunities at the early stage. So they will be involved in the structuring and analysis of opportunities before they really come into a real transaction," he said.

The firms "get involved at different stages", Story said. "We obviously prefer to be involved sooner rather than later."

Companies are funding takeovers from capital raised on the equity markets, Story said. GrainCorp Ltd, the nation’s biggest grain handler, in October agreed to buy United Malt Holdings Ltd. for $655 million, partly funded by a $589 million share sale.

"The funding for a takeover came entirely from capital rasied on the equity markets," said Story.

"So the equity markets are there for funding M&A. I think the question will be whether the debt markets free up any more than they are at the moment. I think it's true at the current time that banks are being very conservative in terms of new lending," he said.

But Story said there is no real sign that debt funded takeovers of the type that we saw three or four years ago are going to be coming back particularly soon.

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