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Deal Watch: Clutch of US firms including Skadden, Cleary and Kirkland secure high value corporate mandates

After the slowest opening M&A quarter for a decade the past week saw signs of the forecasted uptick in M&A activity as a clutch of US firms including Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, Kirkland & Ellis and Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton secured high value mandates.

In what is said to be the largest Chinese takeover of a US company, Hong Kong-based meat processing giant Shuanghui International Holdings has acquired the world’s largest pork processor, Smithfield Foods, in a deal worth $4.7bn, or $7.1bn including assumed debt. US Paul Hastings led by Hong Kong-based partner Raymond Li advised the buyer alongside LB Global 100 US firm Troutman Sanders, led by corporate partners Mason Bayler, David Myers and Coburn Beck. Smithfield Foods was advised by Simpson Thacher & Bartlett led by M&A partners Robert Spatt and Patrick Noughton and McGuireWoods led by corporate partners David Oakey and James Anderson.

Skadden led by M&A partners Paul Schnell and Neil Stronski advised Barclays as financial adviser to Smithfield Foods.

Elsewhere, Skadden also advised French reinsurance giant SCOR on the recently announced acquisition of Generali U.S, the holding company of Generali’s life reinsurance operations in the United States in a deal worth $750m. Scor and Generali entered into a definitive agreement on 4 June that will make SCOR the market leader in life reinsurance in the US, although the deal is subject to regulatory approval and is expected to close later this year.

Skadden’s head of European M&A Armand Grumberg led on the deal from Paris, and co-head of the firm’s financial institution practice Robert Sullivan led from New York. Fried Frank and Cleary acted as the Italian insurer’s legal advisors.

Grumberg told Legal Business: ‘This transaction is important for SCOR and will allow it to become the market leader in life reinsurance in the US without negatively affecting its rating.It was a complex transaction with heavy regulatory aspects which had a direct impact on the structuring and required a strong and creative team effort on both sides of the Atlantic.’

Meanwhile, Cleary led on Warburg Pincus and General Atlantic’s agreement with Banco Santander to boost the global growth of its asset management unit, Santander Asset Management (SAM), by jointly holding a 50% stake in a holding company that will integrate SAM’s eleven asset management companies in the countries in which it operates. The remaining 50% will be owned by Grupo Santander.

The agreement values SAM at €2bn. The transaction, which is expected to be completed by the end of the year, will generate a net capital gain of €700.

The international team fielded by Cleary included partners from London, New York and Milan led by London corporate partner Simon Jay and New York corporate partner Christopher Austin. Tax advice was also provided from partners Richard Sultman in London and Bill McRae in New York. Counsel Carlo de Vito Piscicelli in Milan advised on finance matters.

Slaughter and May corporate and commercial partners Roland Turnill and Michael Corbett advised Santander, along with Antonio Herrera at Uría Menéndez.

On the private equity front Kirkland & Ellis advised mid-market energy investor Blue Water Energy in the closing of oil and gas investment vehicle Blue Water Energy Fund I with commitments totaling $861m.

Private funds partner Richard Watkins, who led the team for Kirkland, said: ‘We are delighted to have assisted Blue Water Energy with their formation and congratulate them on the great success of this fundraising. In a challenging environment, their success is testament to the quality and attractiveness of the team and their strategy.’

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