It appears the M&A merry-go-round is in overdrive.
As we reveal this week, CBRE has its eyes on Bilfinger GVA, and possibly all of Bilfinger’s property-related businesses. Such a deal, whether for the UK GVA arm only or a larger chunk of the German company, makes sense. With the likes of Colliers and DTZ/Cushman creating some real competition for the property world’s top two, CBRE and JLL, the former is right to look to consolidate its position as the global leader in the agency business.
While the talks are at an early stage, I understand CBRE’s top brass have had “useful discussions” with their Bilfinger counterparts at Bilfinger’s HQ in Mannheim. However, with competition for at least part of the business from the likes of KKR, CBRE does need to tread carefully and ensure it doesn’t overpay for a deal to be done.
Of course, this is not the only deal in town right now. The advantage of being old, and not quite senile, is that I can remember what a firm actually means when it states ‘we’re absolutely not for sale’. That’s what Strutt & Parker told me a few weeks ago. Yet days after making the claim, it was the subject of several rumoured approaches from the likes of CBRE (again), JLL and Countrywide. Despite cast-iron denials from BNP Paribas, it is also still rumoured to be in the frame for Strutts.
What springs to mind when a prime minister says he or she has “full confidence” in a minister who has just committed a faux pas? Yep, that minister will be shuffled, or sacked. The same rule tends to apply to companies when they insist they’re not for sale. Let’s turn to Strutts’ results statement last month. Senior partner Andy Martin said the firm was “fiercely independent”. If that’s the case, why make a big show of your figures to potential buyers, Andy?
Another strong sign a company is looking for a buyer or partner is the appointment of a financial PR agency. Strutts recently appointed Tavistock Communications. And, come on Andy, why have you appointed investment bankers Evercore to advise on future strategy if a sale of the business was not a possibility?
Moving on, Savills has been touted as a takeover target for many months now. A few weeks ago, I learned JLL had broken off merger talks with Savills, freeing up both firms to consider other suitors. The big hurdle for any bidder for Savills is, however, its old-fashioned pension and staff structure. Then again, while the process was a little bloody, DTZ has managed to overcome the arcane equity partnership structure at Cushman, so anything is possible.
And that’s the point. Getting on for 20 years ago, takeover rumours were put to me thus: “It’s like the dogs in the park. They’re all sniffing each other’s backsides.”
As we pass - or approach, depending on your view - the top of the market, it seems it doesn’t matter what breed of dog you are in the agency business; there’s a bigger dog having a sniff of your backside in the property park right now.