Top investment banks for PE-backed deals in 2019: Houlihan Lokey led the pack

Houlihan Lokey, Lincoln International, Jefferies Financial Group, William Blair and Piper Sandler Cos. rank as the top five most active M&A investment banks in 2019, based on the volume of completed private equity-backed deals in the U.S., according to PitchBook.

Besides advising on M&A deals, the investment banks on the top 10 list also had a busy year with acquisitions of their own in 2019, including two acquisitions by Houlihan Lokey and three by Stifel Financial. Piper Sandler Cos., was created when Minneapolis-based Piper Jaffray Cos. acquired New York-based Sandler O’Neill & Partners in a deal representing more than half of Piper Jaffray’s $930 million market capitalization. The firm also had another acquisition in 2019 and sold a company to exit the traditional asset management business.

Here are Mergers & Acquisitions’ profiles of the 10 firms that led the league tables in a robust year for dealmaking.

Editor’s Note: This story is a collaboration between Mergers & Acquisitions and PitchBook. The profiles are reported and written by Mergers & Acquisitions, and the deal count and ranking data comes from PitchBook. We use the data available at press time. This story was compiled based on the data available on Feb. 14, 2020.

1. Houlihan Lokey
The bank has made recent acquisitions itself
Houlihan Lokey Inc. (NYSE: HLI) is an investment bank that offers M&A, capital markets, financial restructuring, valuation and strategic consulting services.

In 2019, Los Angeles-based Houlihan Lokey agreed to acquire Freeman & Co., a New York-based independent firm advising financial institution clients on mergers and acquisitions and capital raising. Houlihan Lokey also made its fifth European acquisition in four years, acquiring Madrid-based Fidentiis Capital to grow its European corporate finance business. In 2018, the bank acquired BearTooth Advisors, a firm that provides strategic advisory and placement agency services to alternative investment managers. In that same year, the firm formed HL Finance LLC to arrange senior secured leveraged loans for financial sponsor-backed, privately held and public corporate entities.

Houlihan Lokey’s recent deals include advising on Givaudan’s acquisition of Ungerer & Co., TPG Growth’s acquisition of Denali Water Solutions and Lakeview Capital Inc.’s acquisition of Mochi Ice Cream Co., a portfolio company of Century Park Capital Partners. Houlihan Lokey advised on 81 U.S. PE-backed deals in 2019, according to PitchBook.
2. Lincoln International
The bank focuses on business services, consumer, energy and healthcare
Lincoln International is a middle-market investment bank that provides M&A, growth equity, debt advisory, restructuring, joint ventures and valuation services. The firm was founded in 1996 and has more than 570 employees across 20 offices in 16 countries.

Among the sectors that Lincoln focuses on are business services, consumer, energy, healthcare, industrials and technology media and telecom. Lincoln, headquartered in Chicago, advised on 225 deals globally in 2019 and more than 200 in 2018. Almost half of the firm’s transactions are cross-border.

Among its recent deals, Lincoln advised Orland, Florida-based Micross Components, a portfolio company of Insight Equity, on its merger with Corfin Industries, a portfolio company of Behrman Capital. It also advised Acorn Growth Cos. on its sale of UK-based Aerospheres to FDH, a portfolio company of Audax Private Equity and advised LogiNext Solutions on raising growth capital from Tiger Global and Steadview Capital. Lincoln advised on 67 U.S. PE-backed deals in 2019, according to PitchBook.
3. Jefferies Financial Group
The bank has completed more than 650 transactions since 2016
Jefferies is a diversified financial services company involved in investment banking, capital markets, asset management and direct investing. On the M&A side, Jefferies has completed more than 650 transactions valued at over $600 billion since the beginning of 2016. About 70 percent of its M&A deals were sellside transactions and 60 percent involved strategic buyers. More than 20 percent were cross-border deals.

Earlier in 2020, Jefferies advised RS Energy on its sale from Warburg Pincus to Genstar-backed Enverus. It also advised West Dermatology on its sale to Sun Capital Partners from Enhanced Healthcare Partners, XCessories & Services LLC on its sale to Clearlake Capital from Olympus Partners, and Gilat Satellite Networks Ltd. (Nasdaq: GILT) on its $533 million sale to Comtech Telecommunications Corp. (Nasdaq: CMTL). Jefferies advised AmeriLife Group on the sale of a majority stake in the firm from J.C. Flowers & Co. to Thomas H. Lee Partners. Jefferies advised on 61 U.S. PE-backed deals in 2019, according to PitchBook.
4. William Blair
The investment bank offers buyside and sellside services
William Blair is global boutique with expertise in investment banking, investment management and private wealth management. The employee-owned firm was founded in 1935 by William McCormick Blair and has 1,500 employees worldwide. William Blair’s investment banking group offers buyside and sellside services for publicly traded and privately held companies.

From 2015 through 2019, the firm completed 593 M&A transactions representing about $233 billion in value. In 2019, William Blair advised on deals including the J2 Acquisition Limited acquisition of APi Group Inc. for $2.9 billion; Sealed Air Corp.’s (NYSE: SEE) acquisition of Automated Packaging Systems Inc. (APS), maker of automated bagging systems, for $510 million; the Perrigo Co. plc (NYSE: PRGO) acquisition of Ranir Global Holdings LLC for $750 million; pharma company Catalent Inc.’s (NYSE: CTLT) acquisition of gene therapy company Paragon Bioservices Inc. for $1.2 billion; and Carbonite Inc.’s (NASDAQ: CARB) acquisition of Webroot Inc. for $618.5 million. William Blair advised on 58 U.S. PE-backed deals in 2019, according to PitchBook.
5. Piper Sandler Cos.
Piper Jaffray bought Sander O’Neill & Partners, creating a powerhouse
Minneapolis-based Piper Sandler Cos. (NYSE: PIPR) was formed in January 2019 when Piper Jaffray Cos., a middle-market investment bank, acquired Sandler O’Neill & Partners, a New York-based boutique investment banking boutique focused on financial services.

Piper Jaffray was dominant in the healthcare sector and the deal was a bid to become a leader in the financial services sector. The deal represented more than half of Piper Jaffray’s $930 million market cap, and it followed a pattern from recent years: to fuel expansion in some sectors through acquisition.

To grow its business in financial services in 2015, the firm acquired River Branch Holdings LLC and BMO Capital Markets GKST Inc. In 2016, to grow in the energy sector, Piper Jaffray bought Simmons & Company International. Later in 2019, Piper Sandler acquired Weeden & Co., a broker-dealer, and exited its traditional asset management business with the sale of Advisory Research Inc. Piper Sandler advised on 55 U.S. PE-backed deals in 2019, according to PitchBook.
6. Baird
The M&A advisory arm of R.W. Baird advises mid-market companies
Milwaukee-based Baird is an M&A advisory arm of R.W. Baird, an employee-owned investment bank, private equity firm and wealth management firm with about 4,600 employees.

Baird advises middle-market and emerging growth companies and their owners on business sales, mergers, acquisitions, employee stock ownership plans, valuations and transition planning.

In 2019, the firm’s deals included advising the Dental Care Plus Group on its sale to GroupDentaQuest; advising specialty manufacturer Alpha Integration Inc. on its sale to Tooling Tech Group, a portfolio company of GenNx360 Capital Partners; and advising St. Matthews Imports on its sale to Joe Hudson’s Collision Centers, a portfolio company of Carousel Capital. Baird also recently was the sellside advisor for the sale of Boutique Design New York from ST Media Group International and Hospitality Media Group to Emerald Expositions Events Inc. (NYSE: EEX). Baird advised on 53 U.S. PE-backed deals in 2019, according to PitchBook.
7. Raymond James Financial
The firm provides investment banking and wealth management services
Raymond James Financial Inc. (NYSE: RJF) is a financial services firm that provides investment banking and wealth management services. The firm, based in St. Petersburg, Florida, was founded in 1962 by Bob James, and went public 1983.

Raymond James focuses on the consumer and retail, financial services, healthcare and industrial sectors, among others.

The company reported record net income of $268 million for its fiscal quarter ended Dec. 31, 2019, but its $60 million in investment banking M&A and advisory revenues for the quarter was down 35 percent from the previous quarter and down 29 percent from one year before. That was despite a healthy pipeline for M&A deals, said CEO Paul Reilly.

In recent deals, Raymond James advised Gryphon Investors on its acquisition of Ncontracts, a provider of risk management software for the financial services sector; and Campus Management and Edcentric college student information systems on their sale from Leeds Equity Partners to Veritas. Raymond James advised on 52 U.S. PE-backed deals in 2019, the same number as Harris Williams, according to PitchBook.
7. Harris Williams
The PNC subsidiary specializes in M&A advisory services
Harris Williams, a subsidiary of PNC Financial Services Group Inc. (NYSE: PNC), is an investment bank specializing in M&A advisory services. The Richmond, Virginia-based firm concentrates on the aerospace and defense, building products, business services, consumer, energy and power, healthcare, industrials, specialty distribution, technology-media-telecom and transportation sectors.

Harris Williams, founded in 1991, recently advised Kronos Foods Inc., a portfolio company of Grey Mountain Partners, on its sale to Entrepreneurial Equity Partners; Integrated Global Services Inc., a portfolio company of Industrial Growth Partners, on its sale to an investment affiliate of J.F. Lehman & Co.; and Elliott Aviation on its majority recapitalization by Summit Park. It also advised Specialty Welding and Turnarounds, a portfolio company of Hastings Equity Partners, on its sale to Orix Capital Partners. Harris Williams advised on 52 U.S. PE-backed deals in 2019, the same number as Raymond James, according to PitchBook.
Goldman Sachs Group
The firm offers a wide range of services, including middle-market investing
Goldman Sachs Group (NYSE: GS) is an investment and investment management firm that offers a range of services including: M&A and investment banking, consumer banking, asset management, private wealth management, direct private investing and middle-market financing and investing. Its M&A services include advice on mergers, sales, acquisitions, leveraged buyouts, joint ventures, raid defenses, spin-offs, divestitures and other restructurings; its M&A services clients include businesses, private investors, government agencies, private individuals and families.

Goldman Sachs has nine investment banking groups dedicated to certain industry sectors: consumer retail, financial institutions, financial and strategic investors, healthcare, industrials, municipal finance, natural resources, real estate and technology, media and telecom.

The firm, through its special situations group, lends and invests up to $150 million directly to mid-sized companies. The special situations group provides lending, mezzanine and growth capital to mid-market businesses in the U.S. and in Europe. Goldman Sachs advised on 44 U.S. PE-backed deals in 2019, according to PitchBook. Goldman Sachs is advising Searchlight and ForgeLight on their acquisition of a majority in Univision.
10. Stifel Financial
The firm made several acquisitions of its own recently
Stifel Financial Corp. (NYSE: SF) is a diversified wealth management and investment bank. The firm’s middle-market investment banking division focuses on the consumer and retail, healthcare, gaming and leisure, real estate and technology sectors. The firm’s closed deals since 2000 have averaged $388.8 million, and its 178 cross-border transaction since 2000 have totaled $130 billion.

St. Louis-based Stifel owns Eaton Partners, Keefe, Bruyette & Woods and Miller Buckfire. In December 2019, the firm acquired the capital markets business of GMP Capital Inc., a Toronto-based independent investment bank. In 2019, a Stifel subsidiary acquired MainFirst Bank AG, an independent European investment bank, and Stifel acquired George K. Baum & Co., an underwriter and financial advisor.

Recent deals have include: advising Richard Barasch on its acquisition of AdaptHealth Holdings. Stifel is also advising Silver Lake on its acquisition of First Advantage, a provider of background screening services for employers

Stifel advised on 37 U.S. PE-backed deals in 2019, according to PitchBook.