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Retail and Consumer Dealmaking Perks Up

There were 27 U.S. retail and consumer deals, valued at a combined $39.8 billion, during the first three months of the year.

Warren Buffett made the big splash in the first quarter with the $28 billion agreement to buy HJ Heinz with a partner, but non-ketchup dealmaking was also gaining in the retail and consumer market.

This story first appeared in the April 29, 2013 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

There were 27 U.S. retail and consumer deals, valued at a combined $39.8 billion, during the first three months of the year, according to a study from consultancy PwC looking at transactions of over $50 million.

That’s a 59 percent rise in the number of deals and a 590 percent jump in their overall value versus a year earlier. Even without the Heinz transaction, the total value of retail and consumer deals more than doubled from a year earlier.

The final tally might come as something of a surprise, given how bankers have been grumbling about a slow market lately. Some deals were pulled into the fourth quarter so money could trade hands before changes to the tax laws took effect.

“It was definitely a better quarter than I would have thought based on the sentiment out there,” said Leanne Sardiga, PwC’s U.S. retail & consumer deals leader.

Sardiga said many retailers have hit bottom after some challenging years in the economy and are now looking to grow sales.

“If you’re not getting quite as much from the top line in your base business, how do you better enhance your capabilities?” Sardiga said, summing up the thinking of retailers.

“For some folks it’s the idea of international growth,” she said. “For some…it is how do you access customers in a different way, which could be through different e-commerce channels, it could be through adding different service capabilities.”

Among the deals making headlines in the first quarter were The Swatch Group Ltd.’s up to $1 billion arrangement to buy luxe jeweler Harry Winston; Sycamore Partners’ $600 million agreement to take Hot Topic Inc. private, and Gap Inc.’s $130 million acquisition of Intermix.

Cross-border transactions made up 44 percent of the dealmaking in the study, up from an average of 40 percent annually for the past five years.

While there was some surprising momentum in the market for bigger transactions, that didn’t carry across the market.

Deals for smaller retail and consumer companies with a value under $50 million slowed in the first quarter. The total number of smaller deals fell 36.2 percent to 30, while total value decreased 38.3 percent to $382 million.