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Clearer project finance picture emerges

Clearer project finance picture emerges

A year on from surprising even themselves by featuring in the top five global project finance legal advisers, Australian firms have settled back into their rightful place in the world hierarchy,…

A year on from surprising even themselves by featuring in the top five global project finance legal advisers, Australian firms have settled back into their rightful place in the world hierarchy, according to the latest tables released by Dealogic last week.

The study, which tracked performance for the first nine months of the year, placed Mallesons Stephen Jaques atop the antipodean heap, ahead of Freehills and Allens Arthur Robinson.

The favoured boxed trifecta saw Mallesons act on 13 deals totalling US$1,593.24 ($2,306.29) million.

Despite advising on one extra project during the first three quarters of 2003, Freehills finished with US$1,425.91 ($2,063.97) million, while Allens came in a distant third with seven deals and combined value of US$766.55 ($1,109.59) million.

For the identical period last year, the latter two punched above their weight to respectively place fourth and fifth on the 2002 global tables, with Blake Dawson Waldron in eighth and Mallesons fourteenth.

A year on and only Mallesons and Freehills remain in the top 20 global project finance advisers, coming in thirteenth and fifteenth respectively.

In light of the report’s finding that Australasian volumes fell by 46 per cent to US$4.9 ($7.09) billion from US$9.0 ($13.03) billion for the same period in 2002, the hangover is not surprising.

Observers were unfazed by the slide, pointing out that in 2002 stellar ‘one-off’ deals such as the US$4 ($5.79) billion Sydney Airport sale and Melbourne’s Citylink served to artificially boost the standings of Australian firms. According to the survey, the Western Sydney Orbital road project, worth US$1.32 ($1.91) billion, is Australia’s biggest project to date in 2003.

Freehills project finance partner Patrick St. John said last year’s performance was a “remarkable result” that was always going to be tough to replicate.

“With mammoth deals like Sydney Airport, 2002 was huge and probably enough to distort where Australian firms actually are,” he said. “It was a little bit of an aberration and with numbers down in Asia, firms here ranked a little bit disproportionately.”

However, considering Australia’s relatively weak dollar, the strong outcome could not be under- estimated, added St. John, who pointed to the large number of deals Australian firms continued to churn out as evidence of continued growth despite the rankings drops.

St John did not expect the latest reflection of the market to change markedly before the end of the year and predicted promising early signs in the Private Public Partnership (PPP) domain to continue.

“There are a number of [PPP] transactions in the pipeline,” said St John, identifying the NSW Government’s decision to launch nine schools with the aid of private sector finance. “The values do tend to be relatively low, however.”

At present PPPs are being “totally driven” at the state level, St John said, before agreeing that Commonwealth involvement would most likely boost values. “There’s been a lot of talk [at a Commonwealth level], but not much action,” he said. “There’s been a couple of false starts such as the Patrol Boats project, but that ended up being done in the traditional way.”

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