23 Nov 2021

Sullivan leads global M&A ranking from Latham and Kirkland as deals smash through $5tr barrier

US firms dominate global ranking with domestic deals accounting for almost half of record-breaking worldwide activity, according to Refinitiv

Wall Street

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Global M&A activity smashed through the $5tr barrier for the first time on record as companies rush to make deals while interest rates remain low.

That $5tr milestone is 40% more than the value of transactions recorded in the whole of 2020 and almost a fifth more than the previous annual record of $4.2tr hit in 2015, according to Refinitiv data. The number of deals is also the highest since records began in 1980, currently standing at more than 52,000 – 22% more than during the same period of 2020. The vast bulk of those deals have been in the US, with US targets accounting for 45% of global activity. That dwarfed China – the second most active jurisdiction – which accounted for 9% of activity.

Given that large share of US deals, US firms dominate Refinitiv’s top 20 M&A legal advisors league table, with Sullivan & Cromwell leading the pack having worked on 198 deals worth $551bn, just short of an 11% market share. Latham & Watkins ranked second, advising on 710 deals worth $504bn, or a 10th of the market, while Kirkland & Ellis ranked third, advising on 789 deals worth $498bn. Davis Polk & Wardwell and White & Case completed the top five, working on 207 and 411 deals worth $474bn and $451bn respectively.

Technology is the leading sector globally for M&A activity, accounting for roughly a fifth of overall deal value ($989bn) – a record high, and 94% more than the value of all tech acquisitions agreed last year.

Private equity deals also accounted for a fifth of overall deal value, 81% more than 2020 levels and 53% more than the previous annual record of $663bn hit in 2007 in the run up to the global financial crisis.

The number of mega deals – transactions valued at $5bn or more – currently stands at 154, another record. That compares to 110 during the whole of 2020. The combined value of those 154 deals is more than $1.7tr – the highest level since 2015.

Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom, Wachtell Lipton Rosen & Katz, Cravath Swaine & Moore and Paul Weiss completed the global top 10 legal advisor league table. Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer was 11th – the highest non-US firm in the rankings and one of three to make the top 20, the others being Herbert Smith Freehills (12th) and Allen & Overy (16th).

Record deal activity has helped fuel a salary war in the US, London and other legal centres as firms battle to hold on to their associates. A recent survey by Thomson Reuters and Georgetown Law’s Center on Ethics and the Legal Profession found that more than half of firms (51%) are now viewing acquiring and retaining talent as a high risk to future profitability.

 

Rank Firm Value ($m) Deals
1 Sullivan & Cromwell 551,487 198
2 Latham & Watkins 503,915 710
3 Kirkland & Ellis 497,749 789
4 Davis Polk & Wardwell 474,087 207
5 White & Case 451,375 411
6 Simpson Thacher & Bartlett 439,689 227
7 Skadden 397,317 244
8 Wachtell Lipton Rosen & Katz 383,209 98
9 Cravath, Swaine & Moore 353,643 78
10 Paul Weiss 337,259 211
11 Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer 309,156 261
12 Herbert Smith Freehills 269,507 182
13 Fried Frank 249,573 98
14 Weil 235,183 243
15 Debevoise & Plimpton 204,666 106
16 Allen & Overy 202,384 263
17 Ropes & Gray 188,254 232
18 Alston & Bird 176,619 151
19 Gibson Dunn & Crutcher 171,584 186
20 Jones Day 169, 297 393

Source: Refinitiv

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