Record £2.2bn worth of M&A deals recorded in 2018 and positivity for year ahead

A record £2.2 billion worth of M&A (mergers and acquisitions) deals were agreed in the north last year
Gareth McKeown

A RECORD £2.2 billion worth of M&A (mergers and acquisitions) deals were agreed in the north last year, according to new figures.

An Experian report has revealed a total of 220 Northern Ireland deals completed last year, with the value up 28 per cent in comparison to 2017.

Manufacturing was Northern Ireland's busiest sector for mergers and acquisitions in 2018 accounting for over a quarter (26 per cent) of all transactions, with financial services and wholesale recording 23 per cent and 20 per cent of activity respectively. Construction showed impressive growth where deal numbers were up by a third on 2017.

The figures further showed that Tughans was the north's busiest legal advisor by deal volume, acting on 59 deals in total,almost 50 per cent more deals than the next placed legal advisor.

Tughans' submissions to Experian came from a broad range of sectors and included the purchase of Grafton Recruitment by Staffline plc, the acquisition of English company Guardman Group by Co Tyrone based Westland Horticulture and the Henderson Foodservices acquisition of Irish firm Barbarrie Duckling.

Head of corporate at Tughans, John George Willis said it has been another strong year for the firm.

"The feature of this year has been lots of mid-market activity rather than the big one-off deals, which is a positive sign for the Northern Ireland economy. Alongside the M&A activity we also continue to see a lot of investment into local companies from various funds from across the UK and Republic of Ireland attracted to our local talent," he said.

Looking ahead and 2019 is also set to be a busy year, according to a new report from KPMG.

The professional services firm's M&A outlook, found that three quarters of respondents expected activity to be at or above 2018 levels as the north maintains its appeal as an attractive deal location.

However, four in five (80 per cent) expressed concern that Brexit will have a negative or neutral effect on deal activity in the coming year. The lack of Executive at Stormont, which has just recorded its second anniversary, is also said to be weighing on sentiment.

The busiest sectors are expected to be agri-business and food, technology and energy and infrastructure, which are all attracting global interest.

Russell Smyth, partner, corporate finance at KPMG added: “In the five years that we have been conducting this survey, 2019 is undoubtedly one of the most difficult to predict. Notwithstanding this, the Northern Ireland M&A market is relatively optimistic for the coming year, despite the headwinds posed by Brexit and the continued stalemate at Stormont."

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