Hat trick of corporate deals for Norwich team at Mills & Reeve

Lawyers working for the Norwich-based corporate team at Mills & Reeve have secured a hat-trick of corporate deals with a global reach since the start of the year amid growing signs of an increase in activity.

The team recently advised on the sale of Norwich-based LJ Group to publisher Nelson Thornes.

Based in Bowthorpe, the LJ Group manufactures and supplies equip-ment and training software to educational institutions throughout the world, and has a significant operation in the US.

It then completed the management buyout of the Norwich office of global giant URS, the world's leading engineering and environmental consultants. The Norwich office is now trading under the name Rossi Long Consulting. Finally, the team advised Randall and Quilter Investment Holdings, the AIM listed specialist insurance investor, service provider and underwriting manager, on the acquisition of Synergy Insurance Services (UK), the High Net Worth Managing General Agent.

Craig Hodgson, corporate partner for Mills & Reeve said fees for the Norwich and Cambridge offices were up 25pc compared to the previous 12 months and the appetite of private equity investors also appeared to be getting stronger.

He said among the factors which were having an impact was the weakness of sterling compared to the dollar and the euro, which had tempted some overseas firms into buying UK plcs, while the 'entrepreneur's relief' afforded to shareholders of family businesses looking to sell was also proving attractive – particularly amid speculation that chancellor George Osborne may look to curb the tax relief currently available.

'We are certainly seeing an uptake in the level of corporate instructions and deal activities seem to be increasing,' Mr Hodgson said. 'We're also starting to see some banks prepared to fund buyouts for the right kinds of deals. Hopefully the eurozone situation will settle down – it's unpredictable and that affects deal activity. But the capital gains relief has never been better for a family business looking to exit, and historically the rates have never been so preferential. Hopefully the budget in March won't affect the capital gains tax regime.

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'We are delighted with this busy start to the year,' he added. 'Our team work on a wide range of transactions with both public and private companies, large and small, which gives us the knowledge, expertise and resource to provide cost-effective support.'

The news comes as a major global predictor of mergers and acquisitions (M&A) by KPMG shows that 2012 is likely to be tough year for deals.

Frank Carter, head of corporate finance for KPMG in East Anglia, said: 'The first half of 2012 – and most probably the rest of the year – will be a hard slog for dealmakers. Serious economic wobbles, not least in the eurozone, have dampened corporate appetite for deals.

'However, we are not predicting a cliff-style drop: deal activity is more than possible with corporate cash, private equity coffers and availability of target companies plentiful. The real test will be whether companies have the stomach to pursue deals.'

The predictor shows that the fall in confidence contrasts with a rise in the capacity of companies to embark on M&A activity.

With net debt forecast to drop 12pc globally and net debt to EBITDA ratios expected to be down 18pc, balance sheets appear in good shape.