Merrill Lynch leads Russian M&A in 2008

By bne IntelliNews January 23, 2009

Jason Corcoran in Moscow -

Merrill Lynch has ousted JP Morgan Chase to take the crown as leading adviser to Russian merger and acquisitions in 2008.

US bank JP Morgan narrowly beat its Wall Street rival in 2007 due to its involvement in announced deals worth $40.8bn, compared with Merrill's $39.2bn. However, last year Merrill nudged ahead through advising on 14 deals worth $24bn compared with JP Morgan's 12 transactions worth $19.6bn, according to statistics prepared for bne by data provider Thomson Reuters.

During the year, Merrill's most notable deals included advising steelmaker Severstal on its $775m acquisition of US steel products manufacturer Esmark, as well as Rusal, the world's largest aluminium producer, on its taking a 25% holding in domestic rival Norilsk Nickel.

Overall, fees generated from M&A were well down last year, with Merrill Lynch earning $40.7m, compared with $58m in 2007. JP Morgan's fee income from Russian deals more than halved to $37.6m, from $78m a year ago.

Merrill Lynch is one of the few investment banks operating in Russia that is yet to cut its staffing levels. The bank has 83 staff based in Moscow and has several vacancies it is seeking to fill when the market stabilises. "We have made a lot of money in M&A and fixed income in the past year, and the business is not yet a high cost one," says one senior source. "In fact, we got lucky that we were gradually building up the brokerage business when the banking crisis struck."

Responsibility for the business lies with Riccardo Orcel, head of investment banking for Central and Eastern Europe and the Middle East and Africa, but the business is fronted in Moscow by American Bernie Sucher, head of global markets in Russia. Sergei Aleksashenko, the chairman of Russian business, quit in April last year following a dispute over the running of the operation, but sources indicated his position would not be refilled.

Harsh times

Overall, investment banks operating in Russia have been hit by a 40% slump in M&A activity with little sign of recovery until the middle of 2009.

The volumes of M&A deals tumbled by almost 40% in the three months to November 2008, according to Russian data provider Some 258 transactions were completed worth $13.7bn, down by 40% from $22.6bn for the same period a year earlier. Volumes were hurt when big deals were pulled, including planned acquisitions by electricity utility OGK-1, supermarket chain Lenta and steelmaker Novolipetsk.

Russian deal activity had been growing steadily for several years until the banking crisis hit Russia in September. In the second quarter of 2008, M&A volumes were up 80% to $57bn from $31.5bn in the same period a year earlier. But from January through November, the M&A market declined by 7% to $102bn, compared with $110bn in the corresponding period of last year.

The communications sector was the most popular for deals, generating 20% of all M&A deals between September and November worth $2.7bn. The financial sector was next with 18.5% of volumes worth $2.5bn.

Russian broker Renaissance Capital was again the leading bookrunner in equity issuance for 2008 with a market share of 18% from four IPOs worth $452m. Morgan Stanley came second with three mandates worth $320 in a market where dealflow had dried up by end of the second quarter. The largest deal was a $1bn rights offering by London-listed Russian retailer X5 on April 22. Citigroup and Goldman Sachs were joint bookrunners and the underwriter was Russian broker Alfa Capital.

In debt capital markets, US bank Citigroup triumphed over Deutsche Bank with a market share of 12.4% generated from six issues worth $2.75bn. The German bank registered a market share of 10.6% from five issues worth $2.36bn, while the Royal Bank of Scotland was not too far behind with a 10.4% share from 10 issues worth $2.3bn.

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