Wall of private equity cash drives near €20bn Irish M&A frenzy

Capital for deals keeps ‘sloshing in’ to private equity funds, says William Fry partner

Private-equity groups from the United States and elsewhere with access to "unprecedented amounts of capital" drove a surge in dealmaking in the Irish market in the first six months of the year, according to a review by corporate law firm William Fry.

The firm tracked 106 mergers and acquisitions in year to the end of June, up by a third on the same period in 2020, with a total value of €19.6 billion. The aggregate figure dwarfs the €2.4 billion worth of deals announced for the first half of 2020, as the corporate world pivoted to cope with the pandemic.

William Fry said a burgeoning level of “megadeals” are a feature of the Irish M&A landscape currently, with nine deals in the first half of 2021 worth above €500 million, which was three times the total for all of 2020. Using data from Mergermarket’s database, the firm said six deals broke the €1 billion mark.

The largest deal by far in the first six months of 2021 was AIB's €4.1 billion purchase of a loan book from Ulster Bank, which is retreating from the Irish market. Other notable deals included Bain's €1.7 billion buyout of Valeo Foods, which owns brands such as Odlums and Batchelors, and the €3.3 billion takeover of UDG Healthcare by Clayton, Dubilier & Rice.


The €497 million buyout of the Conor McGregor-backed Proper No.Twelve Irish Whiskey brand by Proximo Spirits scraped into the top 10, in joint position with a similarly-valued takeover of Fenergo by US investors. Private-equity transaction accounted for half of the total value, while inbound takeovers of Irish-based companies by foreign buyers were worth about €15 billion. The technology, media and telecoms sector was among the hottest areas.

"There was a degree of pent-up demand after the pandemic-related slowdown of 2020," said Stephen Keogh, the William Fry partner who heads up its corporate and M&A practice. He added, however, that a slowdown is not yet in sight as the level of inquiries by buyers, in particular US-based private equity, is continuing to hold up.

“The number of megadeals is remarkable. Activity has come back with a vengeance. Private-equity funds are continuing to see waves of money sloshing into their funds. There is no immediate slowdown in sight.”

Mark Paul

Mark Paul

Mark Paul is London Correspondent for The Irish Times