09 Apr 2021

Cravath tops European M&A advisory rankings as deal-making continues to rebound

Wall Street firm pips Freshfields to the number one spot in Mergermarket's Q1 rankings

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Cravath Swaine & Moore has topped Mergermarket’s advisory league table for European M&A in the first quarter of the year, replacing magic circle firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer in the number one spot.

Cravath topped the table by deal value, advising on 12 deals worth almost $93bn, two of which were top-five deals by value. This helped it jump 10 places from 11th during the same period in 2020, according to Mergermarket’s Global & Regional M&A Report 1Q21. Freshfields slipped to second, having worked on 43 deals worth $68bn, while Kirkland & Ellis climbed five places to third, having advised on 57 deals worth roughly $66bn. 

The top five was completed by Herbert Smith Freehills, which edged up two places having advised on 22 deals worth just under $65bn, and White & Case, which moved up seven places after working on 64 deals worth close to $56bn.

European M&A rose by 51.4% year-on-year, though the opening three months of 2021 slightly lagged the bumper fourth quarter experienced in 2020, with $291bn of deals announced in Q1 compared to $337bn in Q4. The majority of those deals were in the UK, which saw 504 transactions worth $111bn, the largest of which being National Grid’s $20bn acquisition of Western Power Distribution. 

Cravath, providing US advice, teamed up with Herbert Smith Freehills to advise National Grid with Ashurst and Skadden providing US- and UK-law advice to seller, PPL.

Mark Druskoff, data-driven content coordinator at Mergermarket, said: “After the rapid increase in the final few months of the year, and a sizeable pipeline of lapsed deals which could return, there is likely to be sustained activity in the coming months.”

Meantime, DLA Piper topped the rankings by deal count, retaining its number one position from the same period last year, working on 108 deals (worth roughly $18bn)—44 more than second place White & Case. Kirkland’s 57 deals saw it take third spot, with CMS slipping two places to fourth having advised on 53 deals worth just under $3bn and Baker McKenzie rising two places to fifth for working on 46 deals worth $16bn.

While the boom in special purpose acquisition companies (SPACs) that has kept advisors busy in the US has yet to ignite in Europe in quite the same way, Druskoff said it could yet start to take hold in the region. European firms have also been the target of SPAC acquisitions, with six deals in total by mid-March – more than half of what was seen in the whole of 2020. 

Cravath teamed up with Slaughter and May to advise investors DMGT on the $7bn sale of UK online car retailer Cazoo to SPAC Ajax 1, ahead of its listing on the New York Stock Exchange.

Global M&A activity, meanwhile, 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, which placed White & Case in the top spot for global deals by value.

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