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DEALS OF THE YEAR: Best Law Firm: Mexico

Jan 1, 2013

Ritch Mueller

As one of the firms offering a broad contingent of services across several transaction types, Ritch Mueller has had a standout performance over the past year - a fact that puts it in a strong position to capitalize on Mexico's improving economic prospects.

Mexico's capital markets perked up last year once it was clear that there would be a change in government. Coupled with brighter economic forecasts and renewed investor interest, deal volume has risen across the board.

Ritch Mueller and other law firms are busy preparing for a 2013 bringing more of the usual capital markets and M&A transactions, as well as an increasing workload in growing areas such as infrastructure and real estate.

Ritch Mueller was local counsel to Grupo Financiero Santander as it brought the most recognizable deal in this post-election era, raising $4.1 billion-equivalent in an IPO on the Mexican and New York stock exchanges.

"The equity market has been stronger than usual," says Carlos Obregón, managing partner at Ritch Mueller, explaining that there are five or six more equity deals on the horizon for the first half of 2013.

Ritch Mueller was active in several cross-border bond deals involving Mexican issuers. The firm represented the lenders in Cemex's $7.2 billion debt restructuring, one of the standout liability management transactions of the year.

Thriving, well-capitalized sectors such as financial institutions and infrastructure are growing at a healthy clip, Obregón says. Local debt markets continue to be robust, with strong appetite for Mexican names and interest in both high-yield and investment-grade issuers.

The firm represented Crédit Agricole as administrative agent and the lenders in a $1.25 billion revolving syndicated financing for Pemex. The firm expects to see the loan market pick up in the year ahead as borrowers seek to finance projects, says partner Pablo Perezalonso.

The new government is prioritizing infrastructure projects, and the firm expects to see more interest from US banks in the loan market as their European counterparts focus on issues at home, says Perezalonso. Mexican banks are well capitalized and looking to lend more, encouraged by the government.

Local banks are joining subsidiaries of Spanish banks in focusing on infrastructure, Obregón says. Road projects and pipeline financings are of particular interest, with multilaterals also playing a significant role, especially for renewable energy projects.

"You're going to see a couple of solar deals in Mexico in 2013 which are going to be interesting," Obregón says. He also expects to see refinancings as competition among lenders makes rates better.

M&A was a big part of the firm's business in 2012, with Ritch Mueller representing Grupo Modelo's principal shareholders in the $20.1 billion sale of 50% of Grupo Modelo to Anheuser-Busch Inbev and Coca-Cola Femsa's merger with Grupo Fomento Queratano for an undisclosed amount.

M&A is likely to be one of the firm's primary areas of opportunity in 2013, Obregón says. He sees the markets being active as private equity firms raise "significant capital" in new funds.

"Putting aside larger strategic transactions, you're going to see a lot of activity between $25 million-$60 million dollars. That's going to be a very active market for 2013," Obregón says. The frequency of larger deals will be harder to predict.

Spanish developers with positions in wind farm and other power projects in Mexico will likely continue liquidating them, but Obregón says that's not the only sector that will see sales. "There are PE firms that focus on food and beverage, firms that focus on retail - I think you're going to see activity across all sectors," Obregón says.

Energy and infrastructure - which the incoming government has indicated it will look to reform Pemex, the oil company, and CFE, the electricity utility - will become a bigger part of the firm's work, along with real estate, as funds seek to raise money in Mexico either via Fibra funds or private placement.

"Real estate is going to be more active than in 2012 and 2011 with new projects instead of only existing portfolio transactions," Obregón says.

Firms now have to turn their attention to getting ready for the activity, and for the uptick in work ahead, he says. "The biggest challenge is being able to hire competent associates to be able to respond to the greater and more sophisticated workload," Obregón says. LF



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