Industry the September 2011 issue

Market Temperature: Pleasant

M&A Activity Relaxes, Deals Continue at a Leisurely Pace
By Meredith Reeves Posted on September 1, 2011

July bounced back with 23, making it the fourth most active (or least active for you pessimists) month this year and on par with last year.  While transaction volume for June and July was down 7% compared to the same period last year, activity is till up 23% for the year.  The market barometer reached 165 deals through July, compared to 134 at this time last year.

Insurance brokerages alone have surpassed last year’s total deals with 135, followed by banks (19), insurance and financial services (6), and others (5).  The top three insurance brokerages topped the scoreboard with a combined 46 deals.  Hub International already exceeded its 2010 total with 19 to date.  Arthur J. Gallagher has 15, adding at least one acquisition every month this year.  Brown & Brown followed with 12.  Digital Insurance added three more in June and July, bringing its total to seven this year and to nine since initiating an aggressive growth strategy to acquire retail agencies just last September.

Four more bank acquisitions were announced in June and July, raising the 2011 bank total to 19.  That’s more than double their count through July 2010.  Wells Fargo topped the bank scoreboard with three deals through July, matching its 2010 total.

Acquisitions of benefit firms dominated July, comprising 50% of all deals.  Hub added Strategic Employee Benefit Services of Louisiana to Gulf South, one of the largest independent benefits consulting firms in the region. Holmes Murphy picked up the large-market accounts of Northwestern Benefits, a Texas-based employee benefits brokerage.

One of the largest brokerages in the U.S., Holmes Murphy strengthened its market position for 100 to 500 life groups and placed itself on our scoreboard for the first time, as the appeal of groups under 100 lives is fading.

In an effort to diversify its product offerings, National Financial Partners (NFP) acquired Lapre Scali & Co., a full-service property-casualty insurance brokerage with $21 million in annual revenue.  Once a top acquirer, NFP froze its acquisition activity in 2008 due to growth strategy, NFP recorded its first in what will likely be many more to come.

Private equity firms are getting back in on the action.  BHMS Investments took a controlling interest in the Hilb Group, a Virginia-based brokerage formed in 2009 by former executives of Hilb Rogal & Hobbs.  The Hilb Group announced its first two acquisitions last July and is looking to ramp up its mid-market acquisition activity.

Buyer interest remains strong as brokerages seek that strategic fit and try to expand their geographic reach and expertise.  With the delayed increase in the capital gains tax rates and a recovering economy, expect more 2011 headlines.

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