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Karen Evans-Cullen: Yes it was a tough year in M&A across the market and certainly we and our competitors probably found it quite challenging but I think we are in a cyclical practice area and we're used to riding through those cycles.
Australasian Lawyer: Mergers and acquisitions are coming off the back of a tough 2013, with activity levels down 50% on 2012, their lowest since 2002. However Karen Evans-Cullen, partner at Clayton Utz, isn't fazed and sees a bright 2014 ahead for M&A.
Karen Evans-Cullen: I think we are more positive about where M&A will take us this year. The market fundamentals for M&A are right at the moment. There's good availability of debt, it's cheap, there's confidence returning to the boardrooms and to consumers in general and that filters through to the businesses, and also we're seeing you know pretty strong equity market conditions which always is a positive for M&A.
Australasian Lawyer: For Evans-Cullen the opportunities for M&A in 2014 will be in areas undergoing regulatory reform.
Karen Evans-Cullen: We think really the opportunities for M&A this year are in a couple of different industry sectors. Obviously with infrastructure there's a whole slate of government privatisations on the cards and so there'll be a lot of activity in that space.
The other areas where we think there'll be activities are areas that are really undergoing regulatory reforms – so, areas like financial services. With the financial services inquiry, we think there'll be consolidation at the smaller end of the market there as they try and grapple with the new regulation and the new shape of the market.
There are also areas that are subject to other regulatory changes, like media. If the Government comes forward with some proposed media ownership changes then we think there'll be a lot of activity in that space.
Finally there are other areas that are really subject to structural change, like digital disruption, so areas like retail and telecommunications and technology are areas that we think will really look for opportunities to grow by M&A.
Australasian Lawyer: Evans-Cullen adds that lawyers can help boost competitive tension in the market by helping their clients negotiate regulatory pathways to enable a level playing field.
Karen Evans-Cullen: One of the major impediments to maximising tension and to having a level playing field amongst bidders is the regulatory approvals that the bidders need and if you've got one bidder who's got significant regulatory roadblocks in the way then it's going to be very difficult to create real competitive tension with other bidders who don't have those roadblocks.
What the lawyers can do is actually help their clients through those regulatory paths and actually try and get to a point where all of the bids can compete on an equal footing at the one time.