Ares Management Corp. (NYSE: ARES) has closed its first U.S. senior direct lending fund at $3 billion. With anticipated leverage, total capital is for the fund is expected to be around $5 billion. The fund has already committed to more than 20 companies representing more than $700 million. “Based on recent volatility, we are seeing improving market conditions to invest in high-quality, senior secured loans with attractive pricing and terms,” says Ares U.S. direct lending co-head Mark Affolter. “Our significant capital availability, deep and longstanding relationships and market-leading position with middle market sponsors and management teams provides significant advantages during times of market uncertainty.” The Ares credit group manages $60.4 billion in global direct lending, with $39.2 billion in the U.S. and $21.2 billion in Europe, as of September 30, 2018. Other firms that have raised new lending funds include: The Carlyle Group LP (Nasdaq: CG) closing its third CLO fund; Madison Capital Funding closing a new fund; and Monroe Capital raising its third private credit fund.

Mergers & Acquisitions has named 36 leaders the 2019 Most Influential Women in Mid-Market M&A, including Medley Capital’s Marilyn Adler, Kainos Capital’s Sarah Bradley, Madison Capital Funding’s Jennifer Cotton, Kayne Anderson Capital Advisors’ Nishita Cummings, Antares Capital’s Shannon Fritz, Avante Mezzanine Partners’ Jeri Harman, Duane Morris’ Nanette Heide, the Riverside Co.’s Pam Hendrickson, Monroe Capital’s Karin Kovacic, Stifel’s Justine Mannering, KPS Capital Partners’ Raquel Palmer, Huron Capital’s Gretchen Perkins, Accordion’s Michelle Van Hellemont and Sterling Investment Partners’ Amy Weisman. All 36 are outstanding dealmakers both inside and outside of their firms. This year, we asked the featured dealmakers to tell their own stories through Q&As, including their advice for women. “Step forward, speak up and lead,” advises Goodwin’s Anna Dodson.

Related: Meet the 2019 Most Influential Women in Mid-Market M&A.

Outlook 2019
Mergers & Acquisitions asked leading dealmakers about their outlook for the middle market in 2019. View the video conversations, shot at ACG Philadelphia’s M&A East:

It is a seller’s market, and deal activity is expected to remain steady, says Ramsey Goodrich of Carter Morse & Goodrich. Watch the full video: Outlook 2019: Great time to sell.

Private equity firms and strategic buyers will use their excess cash and capital to look for deals, says Bharat Ramprasad of Stifel Nicolaus. Watch the full video: Outlook 2019: Excess capital to fuel M&A.

Rising interest rates and regulatory changes may increase volatility, cautions Mark Emrich of Murray Devine. Watch the full video: Outlook 2019: Keep an eye on rising interest rates.

Deal news
Nonantum Capital Partners has bought ProVest, a provider of outsourced services to law firms. Nonantum is a private equity firm led by a group of experienced private equity and management executives, formed in 2018 as a spin-out from Charlesbank Capital Partners. Lincoln International advised ProVest. Goodwin Procter and Covington & Burling advised Nonantum.

Main Post Partners-backed Fortis Solutions Group has acquired Infinite Packaging Group Inc. from Svoboda Capital Partners. The target is a full-service converter of label products, including pressure sensitive labels and shrink sleeves.

Building Industry Partners-backed Homewood Holdings has acquired building products manufacturers and installers Eagle Creek Siding and Mud Bay Manufacturing.

For more recent deal announcements, see The weekly wrap: Autodesk, TowerBrook, Vista Equity.

For ongoing private equity fundraising developments, see our weekly column, PE fundraising scorecard: Gridiron Capital and Thoma Bravo.

M&A trends
Sector convergence will drive M&A 2019, allowing companies to adapt to pressure from technologically savvy competitors and increasing activity from activist investors, according to a EY report: Transformative M&A in a Changing World. Divergence and disruption were the largest contributors to 2018’s M&A environment. EY anticipates an active dealmaking climate to persist into 2019, supported by portfolio rationalization, deconglomeration, divestitures and the pickup in private capital available to absorb these assets. “Executives are facing a chessboard of challenges — including emerging technology, volatile equity markets and changing geopolitics — that are adding unparalleled complexity to their organizations’ transformation strategies,” says EY Americas vice chair Bill Casey.

Valuations for North American middle-market private equity businesses are expected to remain robust heading into 2019, according to Quarton International. This is mainly due to the abundance of capital and the growing number of PE-backed businesses. The first three quarters of 2018 yielded 8,283 PE-backed companies. compared with 7,988 for all of 2017, according to Pitchbook and Quarton. Private equity investments are outpacing exits at over 2.1 to 1. With this pace of investment, the total number of U.S. PE-backed companies will continue to grow and reduce the amount of available investment opportunities, according to the two firms.

Featured content
Private equity firms are giving back – organizing groceries at food pantries, mentoring students in schools, running races for cancer cures and pitching in at animal shelters. In time for the holidays, Mergers & Acquisitions highlights the philanthropic and volunteering initiatives of 5 PE firms: the Carlyle Group LP (Nasdaq: CG), Frontier Capital, Huron Capital, the Riverside Co. and Star Mountain Capital. At Carlyle, charity starts at the top, with CEO David Rubenstein’s signing of The Giving Pledge, a commitment by the world’s wealthiest individuals and families to dedicate the majority of their wealth to philanthropy. Community involvement is more important than ever to today’s work force. Millennials, defined as people born between 1981 and 1996 by the Pew Research Center, are “for sustainability, diversity, inclusion and giving back to the community,” says Carlyle managing director Christopher Ullman. Read the full story, The Big Give.

Dealmakers share their thoughts on Giving Back in video interviews conducted by Mergers & Acquisitions at ACG Philadelphia’s M&A East. Check out our video with Reed Smith’s Jonathan Moyer: For millennial dealmakers, giving back is part of who they are. And watch our conversationw with Baker Tilly Capital’s Judit Nagy-Eichelber: Volunteer work brings teams together.

The ongoing challenges in the retail sector continue to force some retailers to close, including the June liquidation of Toys R Us, backed by Bain Capital and KKR & Co. Inc. (NYSE: KKR).Technology is driving many of the transactions. Best Buy Co. (NYSE: BBY) recently agreed to spend $800 million to buy GreatCall, a provider of emergency response services for seniors, from Chicago private equity firm GTCR. Meanwhile, GreatCall announced a partnership on-demand transportation provider Lyft to make it easier for seniors to get car service. For more, see 5 trends driving retail M&A deals.

The Chicago Bears won nine of 10 games, and the New Orleans Saints enter the 2018 NFL playoffs with a league-best 13-3 record. Off the field, players build companies. New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady recently teamed with former Giants defensive end Michael Strahan, who is the co-host of ABC’s Good Morning America, to launch a sports media startup called Religion of Sports Media. Muhsin Muhammad, who played wide receiver for the Carolina Panthers and the Chicago Bears, is a managing director of private equity firm Axum Capital Partners. Steve Young, former San Francisco 49ers quarterback, is a co-founder of private equity firm HGGC. View our slideshow, NFL stars Tom Brady, Michael Strahan, Steve Young go PE.

ACG New York Women of Leadership Summit brings together women in the middle-market dealmaking community for a day focused on networking and knowledge sharing on Jan. 17 at the Intercontinental Barclay Hotel. Alexa Von Tobel, chief innovation officer of Northwestern Mutual, keynotes.

Exponent Women kicks off the new year with an evening of networking on Jan. 24 at The Campbell, at New York’s Grand Central Terminal. Jazz Age financier John W. Campbell converted the space to his private office and reception hall in 1923, and it has recently been restored by design firm Ingrao Inc.

ACG Boston, ACG Connecticut, ACG New Jersey, ACG New York & ACG Philadelphia host ACG Northeast Dealmaking at the Mountain at Stowe Mountain Resort in Stowe, Vermont Jan. 27-29. The event provides a chance for middle-market M&A professionals from across the northeast to come together for two days of close knit networking, shared conversations and valuable time spent to deepen your relationships within the deal community.