Back to work with a vengeance

As we march into September the M&A market has bounced back to life after the traditional summer lull and is expected to be even busier than this time last year.

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer‘s Italian arm kicked off the autumn season by scoring a lead role on Italy’s banking mega-merger, advising Sanpaolo IMI on its E64bn (£43.61bn) tie-up with Banca Intesa. The magic circle firm has also scooped a role advising the Irish government on the IPO of its flag carrier Aer Lingus.

Meanwhile, Allen & Overy (A&O) had to gain conflicts clearance from the Law Society after taking dual roles on the multimillion-pound auction for United Biscuits.

A&O, led by corporate partner David Wootton, is advising client United Biscuits on the sale. However, it has emerged that the firm also advised on the financing of Premier Foods’ unsuccessful takeover bid for the company.

A&O denied the conflict, although the dual roles were checked with the Law Society. Weil Gotshal & Manges London head Mike Francies led the advice to Premier Foods, which had headed a consortium that included client Lion Capital. However, rival bidder Blackstone Group, advised by Herbert Smith (partners James Milne and Mark Geday) and Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, is now in pole position to win the race.

Francies is also advising Premier Foods on its E665m (£453.13m) acquisition of Campbell Soup’s UK and Irish business. Elsewhere in the food sector, Slaughter and May client Unilever has sold its frozen foods business to private equity house Permira, advised by Clifford Chance, while United Biscuits has spun off its Southern European business to Kraft, also advised by Clifford Chance.

The controversial gaming sector looks set to keep M&A lawyers busy during the last quarter of 2006. Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom client London Clubs International (LCI) has pulled out of its bid for Stanley Leisure. Instead LCI has agreed to be taken over by Harrah’s in a £279m deal. Harrah’s is being advised by Linklaters corporate partner Olivia McKendrick. Stanley is now understood to have agreed to a £579m offer from Malaysia-based Genting (see page 18). Stanley, which runs 45 casinos, is being advised by Ashurst client relationship partner Bruce Hanton. Genting has instructed Clifford Chance.

Across the Atlantic Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton became the latest firm to profit from the bidding for Canadian nickel producer Inco. The firm is advising client Companhia Vale do Rio Doce (CVRD) on its hostile $17.5bn (£9.39bn) bid for Inco, advised by Sullivan & Cromwell. CVRD’s bid survives where Teck Cominco’s and Phelps Dodge’s have failed: Inco’s board was advised to reject Teck’s bid, and Phelps recently withdrew its offer as it had required Inco to complete a merger with Falconbridge, which has since failed.