25 Jan 2021

Cleary Gottlieb tops Latin America capital markets advisory league tables in 2020

LexLatin data shows Simpson Thacher in second and Sherman & Sterling in third

Latin America viewed from space with connections representing main air traffic routes. Elements of this image furnished by NASA.

Harvepino; Shutterstock

Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton topped the Latin America capital markets advisory league tables in 2020 for a second year running with regional activity surging 25% despite the wider turmoil caused by the coronavirus pandemic, according to LexLatin data.

Cleary Gottlieb led the rankings by both deal count and deal value, working on 60 transactions worth $85bn – up from 41 deals in 2019 worth roughly $65bn, the data shows. Capital markets remained buoyant around the world in 2020 as government borrowers and companies sought to raise cash to cushion the pandemic’s negative impact on economic activity. In Latin America, debt issuance in 2020 had already matched 2019’s full year total by the end of September.

Simpson Thacher & Bartlett ranked second by deal value, advising on 27 transactions worth $35bn – up from fifth place in 2019 when it advised on 27 deals worth $22bn. It was followed by Shearman & Sterling, which slipped to third from second place in 2019, having worked on 23 deals worth $33bn compared to 30 worth $39bn the previous year.

It was not only the Covid-19 pandemic that Latin America capital markets issuers had to contend with in 2020, according to Grissel Mercado, a partner at Shearman in New York.

She said: “Certain countries in Central America were heavily impacted by natural disasters such as hurricanes and heavy rains and many Central American sovereigns are now going to the market to raise funds for reconstruction efforts. Whereas many countries in South America were impacted by political events, Argentina in respect of its bond restructuring, and Peru in respect of its political upheaval relating to the removal of President Vizcarra.”

Markets are expected to remain attractive for issuers in 2021, with several sovereign borrowers already tapping investors for cash. Mexico, for instance, sold $3bn of 50-year bonds at the start of January, with Panama, Paraguay and the Dominican Republic also getting fresh bond deals away. Mercado says Latin American companies will have no problem accessing the market either.

She said: “Corporate bond issuances continue to be hot and as opposed to 2020, when we saw a lot of issuances by frequent issuers, the pipeline is opening up for issuances by first-time issuers. In particular, the need for infrastructure in the region is fuelling activity for project bonds. Despite the Covid-19 pandemic and global economic instability, we have seen that there is a lot of investor demand for Latin American corporate debt and we expect that to continue to be the case in 2021.”

Todd Crider, head of Simpson Thacher’s Latin America Practice, added: “2021 is going to look a lot like the second half of 2020 in relation to equity markets. At the same time, troubled companies are more likely to reach the end of their ability to sustain operations, so the gap between Covid-victors and Covid-losers will widen.

"Tech companies have experienced 2x or 3x acceleration of their growth and many of these will be trying to achieve scale during the pandemic. The big question is how “old economy” warhorses like brick and mortar retail and banks, and the travel and leisure segment, respond and recover as Covid hopefully moderates its level of health threat over the course of the year.”

Last month, Latham & Watkins hired two partners from Clifford Chance in New York to bolster its Latin America and capital markets practice.

The capital markets data is supplied by Ágora by LexLatin, click here to register for a free trial. It was collected for this article and tables on 22 January.

LexLatin International Law Firm Capital Markets Deals by Value 
2020 2019 Firm Value ($bn) Deals
1 1 Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton 85 60
2 5 Simpson Thacher & Bartlett 35 27
3 2 Shearman & Sterling 33.4 23
4 3 Davis Polk & Wardwell 32.4 51
5 4 Sullivan & Cromwell 24 11
6 8 Clifford Chance 17 21
7 9 Skadden 16 21
8 - NautaDutilh 11 3
9 6 Milbank 9.5 16
10 18 Holland & Knight 9.2 8

LexLatin International Law Firm Capital Markets Deals by Volume
2020 2019 Firm Value ($bn) Deals
1 1 Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton 85 60
2 2 Davis Polk & Wardwell 32.4 51
3 4 Simpson Thacher & Bartlett 35 27
4 3 Shearman & Sterling 33.4 23
5 5 Clifford Chance 17 21
6 7 Skadden 16 21
7 6 Milbank 9.5 16
8 9 White & Case 8.6 15
9 12 Sullivan & Cromwell 24 11
10 8 Paul Hastings 3.6 11