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M&A Activity at Low Ebb

After a spate of big beauty deals this year, the thrill is gone from the mergers and acquisitions activity.

After a spate of big beauty deals this year, the thrill is gone from the mergers and acquisitions activity — for the time being, anyway.

“There’s nothing left to buy,” one investment banker recently lamented to a peer.

After all, a number of prize assets hit the market in 2010 — no doubt due to pent-up demand as companies waited out the worst of the recession and then maneuvered to beat out pending tax legislation. The year was marked by megadeals, including Shiseido Co. Ltd. buying Bare Escentuals for $1.7 billion and Unilever’s bid to acquire Alberto Culver Co. for $3.7 billion, along with Coty Inc.’s recent purchases of both Philosophy and OPI Products Inc. for roughly $1 billion each. Among the other acquisitions that caused a stir this year — and there were many — were the Estée Lauder Cos. Inc.’s purchase of Smashbox Cosmetics, and a string of nail care deals, including L’Oréal USA’s Essie Cosmetics buy and the aforementioned OPI acquisition. More deals in nail care are potentially in the offing, as interest circulates around Orly and Creative Nail Design, which is a fixture backstage at Fashion Week but perhaps not on consumers’ minds. CND is owned by the Barcelona-based Colomer Group, which some industry watchers said could be an acquisition target itself.

“The big deals are done for awhile,” said one banker. “But I would expect a few surprises in the first quarter.”

There are a number of companies in the $20 million to $50 million range to be had, and these firms are often prime targets for private equity firms. Private equity firms continue to focus on beauty. For instance, Encore Consumer Capital invested in Tarte cosmetics in May. Bankers named a handful of beauty firms exploring their growth options, including Laura Geller cosmetics and Peter Thomas Roth skin care and Serious Skin Care sold on HSN.

“It’s going to be harder for bankers in 2011. There are fewer big properties,” said one financial player. “Most bankers are feeling naked right now going into next year.”