Freshfields is advising Aon on its mega-deal to purchase Willis Towers Watson Shutterstock
Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer led the European M&A advisory rankings in the first quarter after a bumper start to the year that saw a record amount spent on private equity buyouts before the coronavirus pandemic intensified.
European deal value jumped by almost a third to $199bn in the first three months of the year, around $50bn more than the same period a year earlier, according to Mergermarket’s 1Q20 M&A report. Financial sponsor deals clocked in at $57bn, the highest first quarter on record, the data show.
Jonathan Klonowski, research editor for EMEA at Mergermarket, said: “Sponsors have continued to deploy high levels of dry-powder, with several multi-billion dollar deals announced in the first quarter. While March was a particularly quiet month for sponsors, with just $6.4bn announced, private equity firms remain awash with cash.”
Freshfields topped the ranking (see table) having worked on $86bn of transactions—a fifth more than at this stage in 2019. A hefty chunk of that total was down to advising insurance company Aon on its roughly $30bn mega-deal to purchase Willis Towers Watson in March, a deal which also powered the magic circle firm up the global advisor rankings.
Latham & Watkins ranked second having advised on deals worth a combined $65bn, followed by Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton ($64bn), Weil, Gotshal & Manges ($51bn) and Linklaters ($49bn).
Freshfields’ 29 transactions was only enough for it to rank 8th by deal count — 38 deals behind first place DLA Piper with 67. Latham & Watkins also ranked second by deal count (49), followed by CMS (46), White & Case (38) and Hogan Lovells (35).
Despite the strong start to the year, Klonowski reckons a downturn in M&A activity is now inevitable given that a number of European countries are in lockdown and dealmaking has effectively ground to a halt.
He said: “Prior to the outbreak, many were worried the economy was already on the brink of a downturn and a widespread global recession is now all but inevitable. With the economy hit by volatile financial markets, rising unemployment and a lack of consumer spending, a sizeable downturn in M&A is on the horizon. Economic sentiment has fallen dramatically recently and firms are likely to pause any high-profile [deals] for the foreseeable future.”
|1||1||Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer||86.1||29|
|2||2||Latham & Watkins||65.1||49|
|3||9||Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton||64.1||17|
|4||15||Weil Gotshal & Manges||51.2||14|
|6||13||Allen & Overy||44.2||34|
|7||8||Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom||41.1||10|
|8||12||Kirkland & Ellis||39.5||25|
|9||49||Herbert Smith Freehills||36.8||8|
|10||14||Sullivan & Cromwell||36.2||14|
|2||3||Latham & Watkins||65.1||49|
|4||5||White & Case||27.9||38|
|6||4||Allen & Overy||44.2||34|
|8||8||Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer||86.1||29|
|10||25||Kirkland & Ellis||39.5||25|