MoFo on Bertelsmann’s US private placement

Morrison & Foerster (MoFo) has won a major instruction from German media giant Bertelsmann, advising on a high-profile $500m (£309.6m) US private placement.

MoFo’s London debt practice, which has handled a flood of US private placements over the last couple of years, won the instruction following a competitive tender.

The German conglomerate instructed MoFo’s Brussels office several years ago on a general competition query, but the firm has done no other work for Bertelsmann since then.

The private placement was handled by MoFo London finance partner Brian Bates, who joined from Chicago firm Bell Boyd & Lloyd in December 2001.

A key reason for Bates’ recruitment was to give the firm capacity to service European companies that want to access the increasingly sought-after debt market provided by US institutional investors.

Bates will not comment on who MoFo came up against on the tender, other than to suggest that it was “the usual suspects”. White & Case, Willkie Farr & Gallagher and Milbank Tweed Hadley & McCloy are MoFo’s main competitors in the private placement market.

Bertelsmann’s issue was three times oversubscribed, and consequently the amount of debt on offer was raised from $300m (£185.8m) to $500m (£309.6m). It was the largest ever private placement in the US by a German group and the most high-profile offering by a German company.

Bates points to “historically low interest rates and the unpredictability of the public eurobond market” as the factors driving the growth in private placements. Bertelsmann had looked into a eurobond issue before it plumped for US institutional investors.

MoFo also practises what it preaches – the firm made its own private placement in 2001 before Bates had joined. Last year, Clifford Chance followed suit to become the first UK law firm to issue debt to US institutional investors.