Return of M&A market brings cautious optimism to financial comms

A year after the collapse of Lehman Brothers sent shockwaves through the global financial markets, a handful of big news M&A deals have raised hopes that the lifeblood of the financial PR market may be returning.

Cadbury: turned down $16.8bn Kraft offer
Cadbury: turned down $16.8bn Kraft offer

Most high profile has been Kraft Foods' $16.8bn (£9.67bn) bid for Cadbury, first reported last week, which has brought into play two of City PR's heavy hitters.

Finsbury, which won Cadbury's financial PR account from Maitland late last year, is playing bid defence against the Brunswick-backed Kraft bid.

Cadbury 'unequivocally' rejected Kraft's approach and on Monday released a letter from chairman Roger Carr stating that being 'absorbed into Kraft's low-growth, conglomerate business model' was 'an unappealing prospect'.

But industry observers said this was only the first shot in a lengthy battle, most likely resulting in the eventual sale of Cadbury. One source noted the bid was not being rejected on principle, but on price. 'Remember 40 per cent is already owned by American institutions,' he said. 'It will go at the right price.'

This opens up the prospect of an increased Kraft bid and the possibility that other players, notably Nestle and Hershey's, may get involved.

Such a turn of events is likely to lead to financial PR mandates being put up for grabs, with the two firms not having a dedicated financial PR agency in Europe. One agency boss said he was 'making sure people know we're here'.

Press reports suggest potential Cadbury suitors may climb into bed with private equity firm KKR to launch a joint bid. Intriguingly, KKR retains Cadbury adviser Finsbury for its own financial PR.

The market has also been bolstered by Orange UK's merger with T-Mobile UK. T-Mobile parent Deutsche Telekom had Citigate Dewe Rogerson on the deal, while Orange managed press in-house with support from parent France Telecom's retained agency Holloway & Associates.

September has also seen Maitland engaged in bid defence for National Express against Brunswick-advised CVC Capital Partners. Meanwhile, Temple Bar Advisory client Resolution is tipped to continue its insurance acquisitions, while the Anglo American (advised by FD and Brunswick) and Xstrata merger (Aura Financial) rumbles on.

M&A activity remains close to record lows, but Thomson Reuters reports deal volume is up five per cent on a year ago.

HOW I SEE IT - NEIL BENNETT, VICE-CHAIRMAN, MAITLAND

While the upturn in M&A activity is great for the industry, it only represents a return to normal levels of activity after a period that was very quiet. It is like a glass of water after the desert - it feels like a boom, but is really just a resumption of normal activity.

These deals are happening because debt finance is available again, but we still have a long way to go before it can be called a true recovery. People are cautiously optimistic and it feels like a better market, but it will all depend on the debt market. If financing remains available we will see more transactions, but if there is another lurch downwards everything will grind to a halt.

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