VNU roles dominate legal adviser league table

Clifford Chance is currently the most successful law firm advising on the European leveraged buyout (LBO) market, in terms of the value of transactions it has advised on and also according to the absolute number of mandates won. According to data from Thomson Financial, the firm has advised on 18 LBOs so far this year worth US$18.3bn.

In terms of the value of transactions mandated to advise on, Clifford Chance’s closest rival in 2006 is Shearman & Sterling, which has advised on just three deals in the year to-date, though with a combined value of US$15.7bn.

Mandates on the small number of large-scale transactions are the key driver of league table positions, with Clifford Chance having advised on three of the 10 biggest and Shearman & Sterling on two.

In terms of deal numbers, Linklaters tally of 15 is the closest rival to Clifford Chance, although its tally represents a fall from 25 deals at the same date in 2005.

Clifford Chance’s success in the LBO market has failed to keep pace with overall growth in the market.

Clifford Chance’s 39% share of the market is down from the 45% it held at the beginning of May 2005, failing to keep pace with the 25% rise in the total value of all European target LBOs. However, the firm is alone among last years cohort in remaining in the top five in 2006.

Clifford Chance has advised on a mixture of LBO activities, acting for both buy and sell sides on deals including the largest announced so far this year.

It has been retained to advise Valcon Acquisition on its sweetened US$11.5bn bid for Dutch publisher VNU. Clifford Chance is acting on the buy-side of the deal alongside Latham & Watkins opposite sell-side advisers Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, De Brauw Blackstone Westbroek and Shearman & Sterling, each of which is ranked among the top five for the year to-date thanks in large part to their roles on this one mega-buyout. In fact, Simpson Thacher & Bartlett’s position on the table is entirely thanks to this one deal.

While the top ranked firms list is made up for the most part of practices with a wide geographical spread and international reach, the individual strength of particular markets is reflected in the ranking of some relatively local players.

Dutch firm De Brauw Blackstone Westbroek, for example, ranks fourth on the 2006 table, thanks to a sell-side role on the VNU buyout and also to its advice to KKR, CVC Capital Partners and Oranje-Nassau Groep, a unit of Wendel Investissement, on their €1.4bn (US$1.7bn) deal to buy out waste management business AVR Bedrijven from the city of Rotterdam. The firm advised alongside White & Case on the AVR deal, opposite Simmons & Simmons.

Advokatfirman Vinge too was a beneficiary of a strong domestic market in Sweden. The Swedish firm was among the advisers to EQT Partners and Investor AB on the SKr38bn (US$4.9bn) buyout of medical care services firm Gambro.

It was also among the advisers to Athena Private Equity, Ergon Capital Partners and Vestar Capital Partners on the €375m (US$455m) acquisition of Italian glass-maker Seves.

Another Swedish firm, Gernandt & Danielsson Advokatbyra, also makes the rankings, thanks to its buy-side role on the Gambro deal.

The three busiest markets for LBO activity within Europe however remain the UK, France and Germany, in that order, which together account for 62% of all transactions announced to-date this year, down only very marginally from the 63.4% they had provided at the same point in 2005.