Simpson Thacher outpaces White & Case and Sullivan & Cromwell to lead US M&A rankings

US M&A surge accounted for more than half of global total in 1H21, according to Mergermarket
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Simpson Thacher & Bartlett held off competition from White & Case and Sullivan & Cromwell to top Mergermarket’s US M&A advisory league table amid a bumper six-months of deal activity in the US.

The Wall Street firm ranked first by deal value in the first half of the year, working on 104 US deals worth $349bn – a four-fold increase compared to the same period in 2020, according to Mergermarket. Global M&A deals surged to almost $3tr by the end of June – the fastest start to a year on record – with US transactions accounting for more than half of the total.

White & Case  – which topped the global table – took second spot, working on 142 deals worth $341bn, while Sullivan & Cromwell was third, advising on 86 deals worth $306bn. Last year’s number one and two at the end of the first half – Wachtell Lipton Rosen & Katz and Kirkland & Ellis – slipped to fifth and fourth place respectively. 

Dealogic’s M&A Insights team said: “President Joe Biden’s $1.9tr American Rescue Plan and the country’s rapid vaccine roll-out may have contributed to the US increasing its global M&A value market share to 51% in 1H21, up from 45% in 2H20 and 34% in 1H20 at the onset of the pandemic. Compared to 2H20, when the US M&A market saw a significant rebound, activity so far this year has risen over 25% by value.”

Aly Simons, co-chair of the technology M&A practice at Goodwin Proctor, which was ranked fourth by volume, added: "Tech deals are huge, especially right now, and technology is certainly holding up the M&A market to the extent that there are other industries that are still suffering.”
She identified cyber security as a hot sector. "What we've seen with cyber hacks in the last few months shows the increasing importance of all types of businesses having strong cybersecurity," she said. "There's been a pipeline hack, a meat processing hack, etc. So those kinds of industries are adopting more sophisticated cybersecurity practices and technology. And a lot of those companies have special needs, so they aren't just going to use an existing product; they want to either create a product tailored to their company, or buy an entire company that has systems for them to use."

Kirkland & Ellis retained its number one ranking by deal count, advising on 398 transactions (worth $301bn) – roughly 50% more than second place Latham & Watkins, which worked on 266 deals worth $257bn. DLA Piper demonstrated its transatlantic strength for volume by ranking third by deal count, to complement its top ranking in the European table. It worked on 188 US deals worth almost $46bn, with Goodwin Procter and Sidley Austin completing the top five, working on 185 and 169 deals respectively.

Dealogic’s M&A Insights team said that business combinations involving special purpose acquisition companies (SPACs) have been a major theme of US M&A this year, with 155 deals worth $379bn announced in the first half of the year. 

The team added: “Although new issuances have declined in 2Q21, SPACs typically have a 24-month window to complete a transaction, so deals made by SPACs in the US could continue unabated in the coming quarters.”

Simons observed: "There are some fantastic companies that will do great when they go public via SPAC transactions and some that won't, which, from an M&A perspective, could lead to a lot of take-private deals. That's a trend that's not even hitting yet, but may be on the horizon."

In March, research by Refinitiv Deals Intelligence found that New York firm Ellenoff Grossman & Schole (EGS) had cashed in on a record run of special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) IPOs this year, advising on more deals than its closest rivals, international giants Kirkland & Ellis and Skadden.

Mergermarket: US H1 2021 Deals by Value

2021 2020 Firm Value ($bn) Deals
1 4 Simpson Thacher & Bartlett 349 104
2 10 White & Case 340.1 142
3 9 Sullivan & Cromwell 306.2 86
4 2 Kirkland & Ellis 301.2 398
5 1 Wachtell Lipton Rosen & Katz 295 52
6 3 Latham & Watkins 256.7 266
7 5 Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom 254.2 119
8 22 Cravath Swaine & Moore 230.6 45
9 58 Fried Frank Harris Shriver & Jacobson 206 43
10 18 Paul Weiss Rifkind Wharton & Garrison 196.5 98

Mergermarket: US H1 2021 Deals by Volume

2021 2020 Firm Value ($bn) Deals
1 2 Kirkland & Ellis  301.2 398
2 1 Latham & Watkins 256.7 266
3 3 DLA Piper 45.6 188
4 5 Goodwin Proctor 75.1 185
5 4 Sidley Austin 108.1 169
6 10 White & Case 340.7 142
7 28 Ropes & Gray 162.1 133
8 7 Cooley 88.6 127
9 15 Jones Day 38.9 122
10 21 Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe 35.8 121

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