Deals year passes £720m mark | 29 June 11

CORPORATE finance lawyers at Ward Hadaway have advised on over £720m worth of transactions during the past year as the deals market shows tentative signs of revival.

The law firm’s 18-strong corporate finance team has seen an increase in both the number of deals done and the total value of transactions in the year to the end of April 2011.

Highlights have included advising on a number of multi-million pound international deals as well as a series of investments in a wide range of businesses across the North.

The team has also recruited a number of highly rated corporate lawyers during the course of the year while the department’s contribution to Ward Hadaway’s continuing revenue growth has been recognised with several promotions within the team.

Martin Hulls, partner and head of corporate finance at Ward Hadaway, said: “This has been a really encouraging past year for the corporate finance team after a couple of the most challenging years which any of us within the sector in this region can remember.

“Whilst activity on the deals front remains some way off the peaks of the ‘boom years’ of 2007 and 2008, the past 12 months have seen definite signs of something approaching a return to normality.

“As a firm, I believe we have been helped by the fact that we continued to invest in our corporate finance team in the difficult time following the financial crisis and the recession so we were ready to take advantage when things started to improve.

“And, very importantly, the fact that we have a number of different specialist teams within the department which we can call on enables us to advise on everything from cross-border multi-million pound transactions and large-scale refinancings to £30,000 venture capital investments and anything in between.”

The largest deal in terms of transaction value which the Ward Hadaway team advised on during the course of the year was the $255m (£150m) acquisition of a significant stake in London-based ED&F Man, a global provider of agricultural commodities such as coffee and molasses, and the world’s second largest sugar dealer.

Ward Hadaway advised German food giant Sudzucker on the deal, the Mannheim-based group returning to engage the firm’s services after being impressed with Ward Hadaway’s work on the 2009 sale of Ashington-based company Sugarfayre.

Slightly closer to home, Ward Hadaway advised fast-growing Newcastle-based pharmaceutical company Aesica on two important deals during the course of the year, the acquisition of Nottingham-based R5 Pharmaceuticals in June 2010 and the purchase of three European manufacturing sites from Belgium’s Biopharma in January 2011.

Martin Hulls said: “These kind of deals call on you to bring in specialist expertise from a range of different disciplines, including property, tax, employment, IT and intellectual property so we are very fortunate to be able to call on our colleagues from other departments in Ward Hadaway to contribute their expertise.

“Time is invariably of the essence when you are working on transactions so being able to rely on trusted people to help you get the job done is vital.”

A number of deals the firm advised on over the past year have seen high-flying North East companies bought by overseas companies.

In September 2010, Ward Hadaway advised Morpeth-based offshore oil and gas engineering specialist Baric Group on its sale to US-based multinational Colfax Corporation.

Later in the autumn, the firm provided legal advice to leading medical claim company UK Independent Medical on the Durham-based company’s sale to ExamWorks, the largest independent medical examination company in North America.

Ward Hadaway continued to act for Italian energy giant Danieli and in 2011 acted on behalf of a Danieli Group company in its acquisition of the Lynxs group of companies in Yorkshire.

Ward Hadaway’s capital markets team were involved in some significant transactions in the 12 months to the end of April 2011.

Ward Hadaway acted for the trustees of the Eaga Plc EPT as part of the recommended bid for Eaga Plc by Carillion Plc.

The team also advised AIM-listed bus maker Optare on the sale of a £5.5m stake in its business to Indian commercial vehicle giant Ashok Leyland as well as on an earlier £2m share placing for Optare.

Ward Hadaway also advised Washington-based Tanfield Group on a £2m open offer to shareholders, again on AIM.

The firm has been active in the venture capital sector over the past 12 months, particularly with the £125m Finance for Business North East Fund.

Ward Hadaway advised on 36 investments during the year from the Fund while the firm also advised on the £2.4m Creative Content Fund, which invests in companies involved in making films, TV productions, video games, interactive media and music.

As well as assisting on the setting up of the fund, Ward Hadaway also advised on a number of individual investments from it, including investment in two football-themed films – One Night In Turin about the 1990 World Cup and United, a film about the Manchester United Munich air crash starring David Tennant which aired on the BBC earlier this year.

Elsewhere within the corporate finance department, the specialist banking and finance team enjoyed a busy year, advising on several high value funding and refinancing deals in excess of £75m each.

Ward Hadaway’s banking team advised lenders including high street banks and venture capital firms and acted for SMEs accessing additional finance.

Enterprises in sectors including manufacturing, education, healthcare, housebuilders, pharmaceuticals and food were amongst those securing capital backing.

The banking and finance team was also strengthened with the recruitment of Nick Bell from Pinsent Masons as a partner in October 2010 while other new arrivals to the corporate finance department during the past year included Associate Charlie Fielding from Eversheds in London.

In addition, banking and finance Associate Imogen Holland was promoted to Partner while corporate finance solicitor Joanne Briggs was promoted to the position of Associate.

Martin Hulls said: “We have a fantastic and extremely dedicated corporate finance team here and their hard work, expertise and ability to help clients with a wide range of requirements has been key to our improving results over the past year.

“While it is difficult to predict what is around the corner, our new financial year has got off to a very encouraging start with a number of deals in the pipeline.”

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