M&A wrap: Ardian, Blackstone, Alamo, Stellex, HKW, Fresh Direct, Trilantic

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Investment firm Ardian has raised $2.5 billion for its fifth co-investment fund. The fund will target minority investments alongside general partners. The firm says it has access to more than 600 general partners worldwide. The fund has already invested about 30 percent of capital through 20 transactions including aerospace equipment manufacturer Alvest alongside CDPG, and fiber-network owner Zayo alongside EQT Partners.. “We are witnessing a major shift in appetite for co-investment," say Ardian head of co-investment Alexandre Motte and senior advisor Patrick Kocsi. "While this reflects our strong track record, it also underlines the increased attraction of co-investment during times of economic and political uncertainty. The combination of our investment expertise and unparalleled access to deals means we are exceptionally placed to provide investors with the kind of diversification and returns they are seeking.” Ardian adds: "The strategy for this latest co-investment fund focused on significantly expanding Ardian’s investor base. This was driven by increased market recognition of co-investment and how it allows a broader investment allocation strategy." Of the 194 total investors in the fund, 153 are new to Ardian co-Investment. Dominique Senequier founded the Paris-based private equity group of French insurer Axa in 1996 and spun it off in 2013, renaming it Ardian. The firm raised a $283 million growth equity fund in 2018. For more on Ardian, read the guest article written by Ardian U.S. infrastructure co-heads Stefano Mion and Mark Voccola: Digital disruption is transforming infrastructure deals.

DEAL NEWS
Blackstone (NYSE: BX) has closed its ninth global real estate fund at $20.5 billion, the firm's largest real estate fund it ever raised. The fund has invested GLP’s U.S. logistics assets for $19 billion. “Despite the challenging investment environment, we continue to see compelling opportunities around our highest conviction investment themes," says Ken Caplan, global co-head of Blackstone Real Estate.

Infrastructure equipment manufacturer Alamo Group Inc. (NYSE: ALG) is buying Morbark LLC from Stellex Capital Management for $352 million. Morbark makes parts and mobile equipment, such as brush chippers and stump cutters, that are used for clearing and grinding trees. Baird and DLA Piper are advising the sellers.

Investment and technology firm Peak6 has purchased Electronic Transaction Clearing, a brokerage company that offers settlement services to trading firms. Freeman & Co. advised ETC.

Trilantic North America-backed Planet Fitness (NYSE: PLNT) franchisee Taymax Group Holdings has bought Southfit, a Planet Fitness franchise group that operates 14 gyms across Florida and Georgia.

HKW-backed Fresh Direct Produce has acquired Islands West Manufacturing Ltd., a wholesaler of produce, processed fruits, dried spices, and fresh-cut vegetables.

Centre Partners-backed Vision Innovation Partners has bought Washington Eye Specialists, an ophthalmology practice located in Washington, D.C.

FEATURED CONTENT
Bank M&A soared all summer, with dozens of deal announcements, creating the perfect backdrop for Piper Jaffray’s July news that it would acquire Sandler O’Neill. “There has been a lot of consolidation in the bank space,” Piper Jaffray CEO Chad Abraham told Mergers & Acquisitions. “Frankly that’s been very consistent over the last 10 years and has created a great opportunity for Sandler. But there are still 5,000 banks, and we expect the pace of consolidation to continue.” Piper Jaffray is determined to be the market leader in all the industries it does business in. The Minneapolis-based boutique investment bank currently dominates some of the sectors it serves, especially healthcare. With the acquisition of New York-based Sandler O’Neill & Partners LP, the renamed firm Piper Sandler will instantly become a leading investment bank in financial services, a sector it has sought to expand in for several years. “We’ve had conversations with Sandler for many years, and we’ve admired their franchise” Abraham explained. For analysis of the Piper Sandler deal, see Counting on bank M&A: Why Piper Jaffray bought Sandler O'Neill.

The New York Yankees are in first place in the American League East division and have one of the best overall records in Major League Baseball. Alex Rodriguez is best known as the former Yankees star who hit 696 home runs over the course of his 22-year baseball career, but today he’s making a name for himself as an investor as the founder and CEO of A-Rod Corp. One recent example: While serving as a guest judge on CNBC’s Shark Tank, Rodriguez backed Ice Shaker, an insulated bottle maker founded by former National Football Leaguefullback Chris Gronkowski. Rodriguez talked about his life off the field as a savvy investor since his 20’s as the keynote speaker at EisnerAmper’s 4th annual Alternative Investment Summit at the The Museum of Modern Art on June 19. Among the topics discussed in a conversation led by Charles Weinstein, CEO of EisnerAmper: Rodriguez’ childhood as the son of a single mom; his investment thesis, which shares much with other middle-market investors; how he’s helping singer/dancer/actress Jennifer Lopez (to whom he became engaged in March) transition her business initiatives from licensing her brands to owning them; and how one day he just might buy a baseball team. Read the full story: A-Rod talks Ice Shaker, NRG eSports, J. Lo & maybe buying a baseball team.

Looking for a glimpse of what’s to come in the private equity industry? Meet Mergers & Acquisitions' 2019 Rising Stars of Private Equity. As the PE industry undergoes a generational shift, and many firm founders retire, it’s well worth getting to know these emerging leaders, including Branford's Austin Collier, Sterling Partners' Shawn Domanic and Summit Partners' Sophia Popova. They represent the future of private equity. For profiles and video interviews, see Meet Mergers & Acquisitions' 2019 Rising Stars of Private Equity For Q&As, see 10 Rising Stars of Private Equity tell their tales.

Activity and urgency characterize the current dealmaking environment, say investment bankers and other M&A advisors interviewed by Mergers & Acquisitions. After a record-breaking 2018, forecasts for 2019 remain bullish. Advisors point to a lot of cash that must be deployed by strategic buyers and private equity firms alike; a healthy U.S. economy; and low interest rates. Competition for high-quality targets has never been more intense, especially for technology providers, they report, which means sellers are commanding high prices. It all adds up to a sellers' market. A mood of urgency prevails, as dealmakers seek to close deals quickly, while conditions remain favorable. The advisors interviewed for this story say they don’t see signs of a recession this year; however they are closely monitoring bellwethers, including corporate earnings, wage pressure, global supply chains and slowdowns abroad. They are recommending that clients be prepared for an economic slowdown in the next two years. Specialization is the name of the game, and investment bankers advise clients to seek targets with business-model stability, limited cyclical exposure and a recurring revenue business model. Technology, business services, healthcare, consumer and manufacturing are among the most promising sectors. Read the story: 8 M&A advisors urge closing deals now, while economy stays strong.

BC Partners has joined the growing group of private equity firms selling a minority stake to another PE firm to fuel expansion plans. The firm, which is headquartered in London with additional offices in New York, Paris and Hamburg, announced it had sold an interest in the firm to New York’s Blackstone Alternative Asset Management for undisclosed terms. PE firms increasingly are selling minority stakes to fund expansion plans. For more see, Why private equity firms sell stakes to other firms.

To celebrate deals, dealmakers and dealmaking firms, Mergers & Acquisitions produces three special reports every year: the M&A Mid-Market Awards; the Rising Stars of Private Equity; and the Most Influential Women in Mid-Market M&A. For more on the timeline and nomination process for each, see Special reports overview: M&A Mid-Market Awards, Rising Stars, Most Influential Women.

EVENTS
ACG Boston and ACG Connecticut are hosting the 5th Annual ACG New England Fall Conference at Gurney's Newport Resort & Marina in Newport, Rhode Island from Sept. 17-18.

Exponent Women is hosting a fall rooftop networking session at RSM in New York on Oct. 7.

M&A East is taking place at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia from Oct. 22-23.

Third Annual Women in Alternative Investments Career Forum is taking place at the New York Hilton on Nov. 8.

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