HSBC gave Norton Rose a role on Philip Green’s failed bid for Marks & Spencer (M&S) last month, indicating that although Norton Rose may not be HSBC’s preferred adviser in Asia, it still has a hold over the bank in London.
The clearing bank turned to Norton Rose for its acquisition of M&S’s financial services arm.
However, in a significant move, HSBC used Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer two months ago when it bought a stake in China’s Bank of Communications, ignoring Norton Rose’s re-established Hong Kong office and raising questions about the strength of its relationship with the City firm.
Norton Rose pulled out of Hong Kong in 1998 to extricate itself from an ill-fated joint venture with Johnson Stokes & Master. Under the contract Norton Rose could not practise in Hong Kong for three years after the termination.
A Hong Kong presence was seen as key to Norton Rose’s relationship with the Hong Kong-headquartered HSBC and the firm’s UK rivals made good use of Norton Rose’s three-year absence to target the clearing bank – with Freshfields and Allen & Overy in particular making significant progress.
Despite Norton Rose’s return to Hong Kong in 2002 and its return to the bank’s Hong Kong panel later that year, the firm’s rivals continue to see Hong Kong as a chink in the armour.
Outside of Asia, however, Norton Rose has continued to keep a hold of HSBC’s top-level work, advising on the Household and Bank of Bermuda acquisitions. Partner James Bateson, who advised on the M&S deal, said: “We are one of a number of quality firms on the panel, this time they picked us.”
The bank’s general counsel Richard Bennett is reviewing its panel with a view to amalgamating its City and regional advisers.
A Slaughters team, led by William Underhill, advised on the financial services arm disposal for M&S. An 11-partner team from Norton Rose led by corporate finance partner Margaret Coltman advised HSBC around the clock to complete the deal in time for the M&S shareholder meeting.