Any firm would be happy with a $67bn deal under its belt, so Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton can be forgiven for being proud of its role advising Brazilian energy giant Petrobras on its mammoth global equity offering, the world’s largest ever.
The deal says as much about Cleary’s capital markets practice as it does about its links to the global energy market. It also points to the firm’s rock-solid ties with Brazil that stretch back many years – Cleary has advised Brazilian state oil company Petrobras for more than 10 years, and it plans to open an office in Sao Paulo this year.
It was a decision influenced by developments in the energy market, but speaks more to Cleary’s strong connections to Brazil.
“This wasn’t a case of our clients saying we’d miss out if we weren’t there,” insists Rich Cooper, a New York partner who has handled project finance work for Petrobras and other Latin American companies. “It’s reflective of the long-term view we like to take at Cleary.
There’s always an advantage to having a lawyer close by, but we don’t grow practices to chase industries. The office opening coincided with the tremendous opportunities in Brazil and there’s a logical nexus between Brazil and natural resources. But we’re also seeing non-energy sector clients looking at Brazil so it’s not just about energy.”
The office is set to open this year with two partners and around eight associates, but the centre of Cleary’s Latin American practice will remain in New York.
Nevertheless, in common with most internationally minded heavyweights, Latin America has shot up the relevance chart at Cleary.
As well as Petrobras, Cleary has represented Vale (formerly CVRD) on a wealth of transactions over the past 20 years, including its recent euro-denominated notes offering, its $12bn equity offering and its landmark acquisition of Inco.
Cleary has also been busy shoring up its Asia operations in an attempt to capitalise on the trend in China for companies to use Hong Kong law for capital markets work.
In February the Hong Kong office, which opened in 1980, began practising Hong Kong law after it hired partner Freeman Chan from Norton Rose. Hong Kong-qualified English partner Michael Preston also relocated to Asia on 1 January, while partner Christof von Dryander is now also resided in Hong Kong.
In addition, the firm has added Li Li, formerly a partner at Debevoise & Plimpton in Shanghai.
“So effectively we’ve added four senior lawyers to the roster in recent months,” argues Cooper.
Cleary represented Vale on its listing of Hong Kong depositary receipts on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange and UC Rusal in its $2.2bn Hong Kong-listed IPO – the first time a Russian company has listed in Hong Kong.
The US firm’s Asia practice is also active in the energy and natural resources sector, having advised Malaysia’s Petronas on the $4.1bn IPO of Petronas Chemicals Group Berhad – the largest-ever IPO in South East Asia – and on its $1.5bn sukuk – one of the largest ever.
Cleary is also focused on strengthening its Middle East and Africa practices, and partners tip the latter as a top contender for a future office.
As Cooper puts it: “I’d be surprised if we weren’t present in the Middle East very soon. I’d bet on us opening there.”
Elsewhere, Cleary is representing Iraq’s Ministry of Oil in connection with the Basrah Gas Project; Rio Tinto Alcan on the construction of an aluminium smelter in Cameroon; and the African Development Bank on the PPP structuring and implementation of a $1bn hydroelectric energy programme.
Cleary’s corporate, finance and capital markets focus means it will never be a client’s number one pick for energy, and nor would its charging structure allow it to be. But, as Cooper says, the two categories are not mutually exclusive.
Jeff Lewis, Sam Bagot, Mike Preston,
Freeman Chan, Yulia Solomakhina
Top three sectors
Oil and natural gas
Mining and minerals
Electricity and power
Top three geographical regions
Africa and the Middle East
Petrobras’s $67bn global equity offering
Lead partners:Nicolas Grabar, Francesca Odell
BHP Billiton’s unsuccessful $40bn bid for Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan
Client: BHP Billiton
Lead partners:Victor Lewkow, Jeff Lewis, Neil Whoriskey
Alpha Natural Resources on its $8.5bn merger with Massey Energy
Lead partner:Jeffrey Lewis