Number crunching: Blake Dawson

Now for one of those factoids that everyone assumes is true: Ashurst’s merger with Australian firm Blake Dawson is all about energy and infrastructure.

Mary Padbury
Mary Padbury

How about another one: Ashurst’s move is all about strengthening its Asia practice by creating links with emerging markets.

Both claims are a little like the one about the Great Wall of China being the only man-made structure visible from space, or the ’fact’ that you can never fold a piece of paper more than seven times. (For the record, Californian Britney Gallivan disproved that one by folding a piece of toilet paper 12 times.)

But how do the Blakes claims fare on inspection of cold, hard data? The Lawyer sourced M&A records from Thomson Reuters to try to corroborate both statements. These show announced M&A deals the firm has advised on from the start of 2006 to November 2011.

First, the energy and infrastructure nugget. Blakes is well-known for its resources, energy and infrastructure businesses, and this is largely confirmed by the data for acquisition targets’ industry sectors. Note that this does not include project, finance or other non-M&A work. The other slight proviso is that many global deals had huge numbers of firms involved – Blakes could have played just a small role.

The firm has advised on 143 resources deals since 2006, or 32 per cent of all its deals. A further 10 per cent of deals were in energy and utilities, with 6 per cent in construction, transport and machinery. Thus the practices that map to Ashurst’s high-flying energy, transport and infrastructure (ETI) practice make up positions one, three and eight for Blakes.

The ETI focus is stronger still for 2011, with resources comprising 29 per cent of deals and energy/ utilities and construction/ transport/machinery 12 per cent each. Some 49 per cent of all Blakes’ deals since 2006 were in one of these areas – a share that rises to 53 per cent for 2011.

As for the regional question, the fact is that Blakes’ M&A practice is dominated by Australasian deals. Some 84 per cent of deals since 2006, and 90 per cent in 2011, were acquisitions of Australasian targets. Only 4 per cent were purchases of Asian targets.

The regions that truly stands out are North America and the Caribbean more than Asia. Roughly 6 per cent (25) of Blakes’ deals since 2006 have involved a North American target, with 21 of those in the US, three in Canada and one in the British Virgin Islands. Of the 21 US deals, only three had Australian acquirers.

Ashurst may be nearly doubling its Asian partner count through the tie-up with Blakes, but the US is the place to watch.

This all lends ammunition to that other ’factoid’: that Ashurst’s next big move will be stateside.

Key issue: conflicts

The merger between Ashurst and Blake Dawson is focused on transactional rather than contentious work, so conflicts are less sensitive than with litigation.

Nevertheless, the data from Thomson Reuters shows that the two have only faced each other once since 2006 in a deal that saw Spanish construction company ACS raise its stake in German rival Hochtief in 2010.

ACS turned to Ashurst along with local and global firms, while Hochtief instructed Blakes alongside German firms Hengeler Mueller and Gleiss Lutz, plus a motley crew of Anglo-Saxon rivals.

The pair have worked on the same side on two occasions.

Top five US deals

  1. Advised BHP Billiton, alongside US and UK firms, on its $12.1bn (£7.75bn) acquisition of oil and gas company Petrohawk in 2011
  2. Supporting role for pharmaceuticals company Wyeth on its $68bn takeover by Pfizer in 2009
  3. Joined a raft of US firms acting for AIG’s American Life Insurance on its $16.2bn acquisition by insurer MetLife in 2010
  4. Sole named adviser to West Virginia-based INR Energy on the $757m acquisition in 2010 of its coal operations by Ohio-based Cliffs Natural Resources, a major iron ore supplier out of Australia
  5. Led for MeadWestvaco on the $68m sale of its global media and entertainment business to Atlas Holdings in 2010