Merger Advisory Rankings Withstand Turmoil

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M&A bankers take note: The more things change, the more they remain the same. That's an emerging theme of the past year's advisory market-share rankings, widely known as league tables.

The career takeaway might be: boutiques and middle-market firms still have a ways to go before they can match the deal "platforms" that top-tier institutions have long relied on to generate business.

Notwithstanding big-bank bailouts, mergers and bankruptcies during 2008 and into 2009, the same five institutions that topped the global M&A league table in 2003 have held the top five slots each year since, Financial News reports. The five are Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan, Citigroup and Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

No 'Reordering'

"The lack of movement at the top flies in the face of expectations that the crisis would lead to a reordering of the bannking sector," Financial News observes. Greenwich Associates Consultant John Colson says a report his firm issued earlier this year reveals two things: "Corporate banking relationships are sticky (and)...companies - especially large companies - just don't have many options."

To be sure, the top of the table hasn't been completely rigid. Morgan Stanley displaced Goldman Sachs from the top position this past year, according to Thomson Reuters. Merrill Lynch remained in the top five but is now part of Bank of America, and JPMorgan fortified its position by absorbing Bear Stearns.

Still, an evident conclusion is the big U.S. banks' dominance hasn't been broken. On the other side of the coin, the lust for expansion that many smaller and newer advisory firms revealed through hiring M&A bankers hasn't always translated into market-share gains. A conspicuous example is Moelis & Co. It cracked the top 10 in U.S. advisory deal value in 2008, but didn't make the top 20 this past year. In global advisory, Moelis wasn't even among 2009's top 50. (But another M&A boutique, Evercore Partners, climbed to seventh place in U.S. M&A deal value in 2009 from 16th in 2008, according to Mergermarket's preliminary report, dated Dec. 21.)

Even Barclays Capital, which placed 12th in Thomson Reuters' global M&A table for the first nine months of 2009, may have gained less ground than meets the eye. The UK bank has hired aggressively since it acquired Lehman Brothers' U.S. operations in late 2008. But adding up Barclays and Lehman's M&A business would have placed the combined operation in the 8th position in Dealogic's 2008 rankings up through September that year, when Lehman was broken up. (Mergermarket's separate full-year tally shows Barclays in eighth place globally and in fifth for U.S. M&A for 2009.)

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