Freshfields and Slaughters clean up in Hong Kong as privatisation programme launches

UK FIRMS have cashed in on Hong Kong’s first-ever privatisation, putting them at the front of the queue for more work.

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and Slaughter and May acted on the privatisation of the Mass Transit Railway (MTR) Corporation, the city’s underground rail system.

MTR Corporation floated on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange on Thursday last week. One billion shares were offered at HK$9.38 (£0.83), representing 20 per cent of the company. The float also involved a 144A Rule placing in New York.

Freshfields’ Hong Kong office, led by securities partner Teresa Ko, acted for the joint global coordinators Goldman Sachs, UBS Warburg and HSBC.

Although the deal was led by the Hong Kong office, it was supported by the firm’s UK and US operations. Joe Sevack, Asia counsel in the US securities group in Hong Kong, also worked on the transaction.

Freshfields won the work after a competitive bid earlier this year.

It is understood that the other competing firms were UK City practices with Hong Kong offices.

The Hong Kong government’s privatisation programme, which was announced last year, is the first of its kind in that region.

The privatisation has created a huge amount of interest in Hong Kong and received more than 600,000 applications for shares. It was also the first time the Hong Kong Stock Exchange’s online share application system has been put to the test.

Hong Kong’s financial secretary has already called the privatisation a “landmark” deal, and has promised more transactions of this kind.

The flotation followed weeks of intensive government advertising. It also offered a variety of incentives, such as retail discounts and loyalty bonuses.

Ko says City firms are ideally placed to win such work: “The UK has been privatising its assets since the late 1970s, so we’ve had huge amounts of experience.”

Freshfields has previously worked on aspects of the British Rail privatisation and is currently advising on the funding of London Underground.

Slaughter and May acted for the issuer in the privatisation, with Sullivan & Cromwell providing US advice.

The magic circle firm has acted for the MTR Corporation before, on a $750m (£515m) global note issue in Hong Kong and New York.

While the promise of advising on privatisation is spurring foreign firms to bolster their Far East practices – CMS Cameron McKenna relocated a City partner to Hong Kong in August, for example – the region is also experiencing an upturn in the leveraged buyout market.

Last month, Milbank Tweed Hadley & McCloy launched an acquisitions finance group and relocated US corporate finance partner Richard Gray to head the practice (The Lawyer, 11 September).