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‘It has been an obstacle’: Ashurst launches European high-yield practice

After losing a number of finance partners in the last 12 months, Ashurst has made moves to re-strengthen its City offering and is developing a European high-yield offering for the first time.

The firm has picked up Allen & Overy (A&O) senior associate Tamer Bahgat, who has been made up to partner at Ashurst, and Linklaters counsel Natalia Sokolova to develop its European high-yield offering.

Ashurst says the move follows the success of high-yield partner Anna-Marie Slot in Hong Kong. Since joining two years ago, Slot has advised the underwriters in India’s first green bond issuance issued by Greenko Investment Company in an aggregate principal amount of $500m to address the financing needs of Greenko Energy Holdings’ Indian operating subsidiaries. She also advised Studio City Company Limited in its offering of $1.2bn of senior secured notes.

Before joining A&O, Bahgat worked for Cravath, Swaine & Moore in New York and London. Clients he shares with Ashurst include Barclays, HSBC, Goldman Sachs, Citi, RBS, Lone Star and CVC.

Sokolova was previously a partner at Kirkland & Ellis in Chicago.

Bahgat explains: ‘What’s exciting about this move to Ashurst is that it creates a one stop shop concept for clients by providing a place where bank and bond financings under both US and English law are offered. It allows us to further address the convergence of products that’s becoming more evident in European leverage finance transactions. We also have a very strong global footprint which positions us as one of the top firms in the City that can provide that complex cross-border work, which certain competitors can’t.’

While 70% of Ashurst’s finance practices focuses on lender side work, while around 20 to 30% of work is done for borrower side clients. Global co-head of finance Helen Burton explains the practice is ahead of its targets for this financial year, but the lack of high-yield capability has caused some frustration.

Burton (pictured) said: ‘Paul [Jenkins] and I have talked for a long time about the lack of high-yield capability that we have in Europe. It hampers on the leveraged finance side. The reality is that the landscape of the capital structure has changed in Europe, and not having high-yield capability has been an obstacle for us.’

She added: ‘The definition of a successful business is an expanding business. We do anticipate the platform will grow.’

Ashurst has made the hires following a flat high-yield market in 2016. In the first three months of last year, European issuance totalled $9.6bn according to Thomson Reuters. However the market is picking up in calendar year 2017 with issuance at $31.3bn to date.

Burton also expects Ashurst to expand its offering in the financial regulatory space and fintech.

Ashurst saw several key finance partners depart last year including head of financial services regulation Rob Moulton and partner Nicola Higgs who departed for Latham & Watkins as well as Michael Smith, Diala Minott and Cameron Saylor who moved to Paul Hastings.

Read more: ‘LB100 Focus: Don’t look back in anger: Ashurst leadership tries to rally partners but the drift continues’