FREEHILLS HAS been named the Australian Legal Advisor of the Year at the Financial Times-Mergermarker M&A Awards Asia 2008.
Freehills beat out six other shortlisted firms to take out the title: Allens Arthur Robinson, Blake Dawson, Corrs Chambers Westgarth, Mallesons Stephen Jaques and Minter Ellison.
Awards are presented to the top M&A legal advisors in six regions within the Asia Pacific. There is also an overall “Legal Advisor of the Year” award, which this year went to Linklaters.
The winner of each award is determined on the basis of both quantitative data on deal values and deal volumes, and independent expert analysis of the nature of the deals the firms have been involved in. The specific criteria considered by the judging panel included the strategic nature, complexity, financing requirements and novel elements of the deals worked on by the firms.
Freehills has advised on a number of key deals this year, with highlights including the $2.4 billion merger between Bupa Australia and MBF by way of a scheme of arrangement and the $US2.5 billion partnership between Santos and PETRONAS to develop the Gladstone LNG project. They also acted for Mitsubishi Development on its $US2.4 billion acquisition of the New Saraji Project in Queensland and the Commonwealth Bank on its $2.1 billion acquisition of BankWest.
The head of Freehills corporate group, Richard Loveridge, said that despite the unstable economic climate, the mergers and acquisitions team’s workflow has so far remained steady. They have, however, seen a shift in the nature of the deals, with friendly mergers gaining ground at the expense of hostile takeovers.
“There’s probably two reasons,” Loveridge said. “One, raising cash is more difficult if you need it for your hostile [takeover], and there’s the risk that your scrip could be attacked.”
He also said that this year’s market has been more conservative than last year in terms of deal size. “We’re seeing less headline deals. Obviously you’ve got Rio Tio and BHP, and then there are the big bank deals, but there’s not that volume of the very-high-value deals,” he said.
Looking ahead to 2009, Loveridge admits it won’t be smooth sailing, however he believes the challenging economic conditions may in fact create new opportunities, particularly for companies that are weathering the storm relatively well.
“You’ve got companies with strong balance sheets seeking to take advantage of opportunities. We saw that with the Commonwealth Bank moving in on BankWest” he said. “You have the potential that friendly scrip deals will be around, you’ve got potential for sell side mandates for those companies with higher gearing, and where you’ve got companies’ share prices reduced below what would be considered fair value, you get a greater focus on takeover defence type work. So there’s a nice variety of M&A deals…. But we just have to acknowledge that we are in genuinely tough markets.”
Freehills received the award at a Gala dinner held in the Four Seasons Hotel in Hong Kong last week.