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Boom times are "in the rear-view mirror" and firms' corporate teams need to refocus as restructuring outfits, according to Cadwalader Wickersham & Taft.
In an annual survey into European distressed debt that canvassed 100 hedge funds, private equity houses and restructured corporates, the general consensus was that the next wave of restructurings will hit by late 2007 or early 2008.
London-based Cadwalader corporate partner Richard Nevins said: "Private equity sponsors are assembling these deals, and for 83 per cent to say that they expect to play an active part in restructuring in 2007 is astounding. They're saying they've leveraged these deals very highly, and the bill is coming - and coming now."
Overly optimistic business plans and a hike in the price of raw materials also play a part.
Other City lawyers generally agreed with the findings, but said they felt no great sense of panic from their clients about the bubble bursting.
Private equity partner at Weil Gotshal & Manges Marco Comapagnoni said: "Whether or not firms will rush out to buy restructuring capabilities is another question, but firms already strong in restructuring are examining how teams can work in that middle ground with private equity lawyers."
Conservatism dominated the responses to the survey, conducted by Cadwalader with Rothschild and Debtwire. Respondents were less bullish than last year about the returns they expected from their investments, with most targeting a return of 10-15 per cent.