Water, water everywhere

INFRASTRUCTURE deals have been hot for a while, but whereas earlier in the year transport hubs were the focus of attention – there was the 2.8bn sale of ABP ports and 12bn takeover of BAA – this quarter it has all been about utilities, in particular, water.

For such a hot area there are no surprises that between advising lenders, investors and the water companies themselves, magic circle firms have the market tied up – but not entirely.

Allen & Overy (A&O), Clifford Chance and Slaughter and May all make an appearance on one of the three major water deals, while Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer landed choice roles on two. But leading the pack is Linklaters, acting on all three and advising both lenders and companies.

The rogue entry of legal advisers on water deals is Berwin Leighton Paisner (BLP). It managed to act on two water deals this quarter, representing the company in both instances. Led by partner Patrick Somers, BLP advised South East Water on its 665m secondary buyout by Hastings Infrastructure Fund. It also advised the board of Thames Water on German utilities group RWEs sale of its British subsidiary to acquisitive Australian bank Macquarie.

Bidders for Thames Water quickly instructed the best lawyers they could find (well those who were not conflicted at least). Successful bidder Macquarie called in Allen & Overy corporate partners Alan Paul and Jeremy Hunt, while its Australian compatriot, the utility group Alinta was represented by Clifford Chance.

Qatars state investment fund, which teamed up with UBS to launch what market commentators thought was the most favourable bid, instructed Herbert Smith.

Finally, Freshfields scored a mandate from private equity house Terra Firma. Slaughters advised RWE, thanks to its relationship with the companys preferred adviser Hengeller Mueller.

Allen & Overy has acted for Macquarie in the past on infrastructure purchases in Europe, including its acquisition of 70 per cent of Brussels airport and its 1.27bn acquisition of NTLs business of antenna towers earlier this year.

Linklaters, meanwhile, has also scooped a corporate instruction from AWG on its 2.2bn buyout by a consortium mled by Colonial First State,m which instructed Freshfields.

On this deal, the firm trying to muscle in on the magic circles turf was Lovells, acting for another consortium member, Investment Funds Management.