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07 April 2021

Global M&A activity hits first quarter record as pandemic concerns fade

White & Case tops Refintiv's advisory rankings for announced deals, with Latham & Watkins second

By Ben Edwards

Stuart Monk

Global M&A activity started the year at the fastest pace on record as deal-making continues to rebound following a pandemic-fuelled freeze in the opening six months of last year.

Activity hit $1.3tr in the opening quarter, an increase of 94% compared to the same period in 2020 and the most in the first three months of any year since records began in 1980, according to Refinitiv’s 1Q21 global M&A review. It is also the second-highest quarter on record, just short of the $1.4tr of deals penned in the second quarter of 2007 in the run up to the financial crisis.

Cross-border activity more than doubled and was the strongest opening quarter for cross-border deals on record, with the technology, financials and industrials sectors accounting for almost half of cross-border M&A.

That has meant a bonanza for firms advising on the transactions, which also saw private-equity backed M&A hit an all time high, accounting for almost a fifth of all global deal activity in the first quarter. White & Case topped Refinitiv’s advisory rankings for announced deals, working on 124 transactions worth $178bn, leapfrogging the firm into first place from 16th during the same period in 2020. Latham & Watkins, meantime, dropped from the top spot to second having advised on 179 deals worth $174bn.

Skadden was a non-mover in third place, advising on 77 deals worth $158bn, while Sullivan & Cromwell jumped six places to fourth, advising on 57 deals worth $143bn. Kirkland & Ellis remained in fifth spot, working on 209 deals worth $139bn. 

Davis Polk & Wardwell, Wachtell Lipton Rose & Katz, Paul Weiss, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and Simpson Thacher & Bartlett completed the top 10, with Paul Weiss the biggest mover, jumping 19 places to eighth.

In terms of volume, Kirkland led the pack for announced deals with its tally of 206, followed by Goodwin Procter, which advised on 201 deals valued $41bn, with Latham and White & Case in fourth and fifth. DLA Piper, a consistent strong performer in volume terms, was fifth, having advised on 100 deals valued at $16bn. Jones Day, Sidley Austin, Willkie Farr & Gallagher, Cooley and Skadden completed the top 10.

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