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UK toppled as Europe’s biggest private equity market


Brexit uncertainty sees UK losing its crown as Europe’s biggest private equity market for the first time since 2011, and Netherlands record highest deal value in past year

Deal value in the UK, which dropped by a third to $24bn across 187 deals in the year to December 7, was exceeded by a total value of $26bn in the Netherlands, according to a new study by the Centre for Management Buyout Research at the Imperial College Business School.

The researchers stated that the UK had more than three times the deal volume of the Netherlands.

But of the top 10 largest European buyouts this year, just one — Silver Lake’s $2.4bn acquisition of internet property search company Zoopla — was in the UK.

“The UK has been the pillar of deal flow but people are favouring Europe for large transactions,” stated Callum Bell, head of corporate and acquisition finance at Investec, which sponsored the research along with private equity group Equistone. He pointed to Washington-based Carlyle’s acquisition of Akzo’s speciality chemicals unit and competitor KKR’s purchase of Unilever’s spreads business—as a sign that giant funds were looking beyond the UK.

Other European countries have also benefited from inbound buyout activity, including France that saw a 35% rise in value to $22bn, from a total of 114 deals, the research found.

The findings came at a time when private equity executives are increasingly worrying about a lack of clarity around Brexit.  Bell stated that he expected global funds to be even more cautious about pursuing deals in the UK during the first half of next year.

He further stated that buyout funds were in wait-and-see mode. “They believe there are better opportunities tomorrow than today.”

The European head of a large private equity group in Europe said he would expect the dynamics to change once “there is clarity one way or another on Brexit”.

He stated: “People hate selling at low prices unless they have to. With all the uncertainty in the UK, most sellers especially in consumer led transactions won’t sell and will wait until things settle down as buyers require a discount for the uncertainty risk.”

The survey also revealed the value of exits this year came at $1.05bn, below the total value of new investments at $1.13bn for the first time in almost a decade.

 Separately, private equity-backed initial public offerings fell by half in terms of value to $8.4bn in 2018 as investors were spooked by volatile public markets, showed the research.

The UK was not the only market that experienced a decline. In Germany deal values dropped from $21bn last year to $8.02bn in 2018 due largely to a lack of “jumbo” deals, the researchers said.

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