P2Ps drive top firms ahead of rivals
Alex Novarese looks at the firms and deals in 2000 that set the corporate agenda in Manchester
Uneven is probably the best way of describing the year 2000 for Manchester’s corporate village.The prediction that the trend for big public to privates (P2Ps) would be a passing fad looked convincing at the start of the year, with most leading firms reporting a full order book of varied work. It was not to be. The take-privates proved to be the dominant theme of the year with P2Ps putting significant amounts of work to Manchester lawyers. The deals included Allied Textile, Joseph Holt, Limelight and Peter Black. Management buy-outs (MBOs) proved equally popular, among them CRP and the enormous management buy-ouy of Caradon’s plumbing division.Such conditions were always going to benefit the elite corporate firms – Addleshaw Booth & Co, DLA and Eversheds. A quick scan of the big deals reveals the collective strength of these three firms, whereas in the past Addleshaws was untouchable. Not that Addleshaws has been giving its rivals an easy ride. Top client Airtours may not have been as lucrative as it was the previous year with its contested bid for First Choice, but the ever-acquisitive holiday group certainly kept Addleshaws busy.Airtours aside, take-privates were a dominating feature last year with corporate partner Richard Lee clocking up six deals, culminating in the Peter Black marathon in November. Also impressive was DLA. Unsurprisingly, given the strength of its venture capital connections under corporate head Andrew Holt, the firm was active with debt and equity providers, despite suffering some bad luck on the deals that made it to the market.Perhaps the most eye-catching performance came from the Eversheds corporate machine, which bagged a range of high-end corporate and banking work. With significant new instructions including Ultraframe and plenty of work coming from the Coates Viyella disposal programme, the days of disparagingly comparing Eversheds Manchester with its larger Leeds counterpart seem well and truly over.One rung down, Hammond Suddards Edge and Halliwell Landau were both wrestling with a number of key changes. Hammonds in particular looked to be a team in flux, with Stephen Levy more active on projects than corporate finance and Patrick Jolly moving in-house with client SurfControl.The firm will now be looking to relative newcomers such as Darren Warburton and Paul Ellaby to make their mark. There is little doubt Hammonds needs a little more mass if the corporate team is to fulfil its earlier promise. On the plus side, office head William Downs is still a business winner, as shown by the Manchester office’s successful pitch to advise BNFL. The firm also turned up on enough significant deals – CRP and the £84m financing by JR Crompton among them – to make its presence felt.Halliwells also struggled with personnel changes. The departure of Tim Jackson Smith, who had done much to raise the firm’s profile for tech-related financing work, to client Knowledge Management Systems left the firm looking light in a key market. Nevertheless, the firm maintained a conveyor belt of public offering work on Ofex and AIM and its finance practice under John Whatnall racked up some notable successes.Elsewhere, teams at Chaffe Street, Kuit Steinart Levy, Cobbetts and Pannone & Partners all turned up on notable deals. Looking forward, most firms have reported a slow January and February, not that encouraging in what is supposed to be the business-end of the financial year, but current conditions suggest 2001 will provide a solid if unspectacular year.With plenty of private equity sloshing around and the same unimpressive mid-cap valuations for north-west plcs, the stream of P2Ps shows no sign of slowing. Debt providers, however, are looking a little more cautious.
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