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Magan buy haunts bank

NatWest under pressure as pounds 70m boutique purchase fails to deliver
Questions are being raised in the square mile over the wisdom of the pounds 70m purchase by NatWest Markets of Hambro Magan in 1996 after it failed to give the expected boost to NatWest's corporate finance activity.

The bank has tumbled in the Acquisitions Monthly rankings from 12th to 20th and last place in the first half of 1997.

Suggestions that NatWest Markets is finding its Hambro Magan purchase of last October an expensive failure are rejected by the troubled investment bank. But other banks are finding this a boom year for corporate deals.

NatWest also dismisses widespread rumours that relations with renowned merger specialist George Magan have soured over the division's slide in the ranks of the top deal-makers.

According to Philip Healey of Acquisitions Monthly, the City could earn fees totalling a record pounds 1.2bn this year if the second half goes the same way as the first six months when bids and deals were the highest ever recorded.

NatWest Markets, shaken up by a reorganisation following its derivatives debacle and slump into first-half loss, will be anxious to gain a bigger slice of the pie. According to one senior insider, adverse publicity in the first half put clients off.

"We are number four this year in terms of deals done," said a NatWest Markets spokeswoman, although she admitted that many of the deals were not large in cash terms. "We are working on a number of deals with Hambro Magan clients including disposals for BTR."

This claim to success is not what the numbers suggest, nor what rival investment bankers are saying. Cynics reckon the best deal George Magan ever did was selling the firm he partly owned to NatWest for a rumoured pounds 70m payable over three years.

In the first six months of this year NatWest Markets, including the old Hambro Magan business, handled 26 deals totalling nearly pounds 1.1bn. Even accountants Arthur Andersen did better, handling 34 deals totalling pounds 1.5bn.

"On the basis of those figures there is a case to answer," said John Aitken, banking analyst at UBS.

In top place was Schroders, handling deals worth pounds 5.8bn, including advising East Midlands Electricity on its takeover by Dominion Resources and London Electricity on its purchase by Energy Corporation.

In the first six months of last year, a period before it sold out to NatWest, Hambro Magan was in 13th place in the Acquisitions Monthly Top 20, handling six deals totalling over pounds 2bn, double this year's tally. It is also likely that handling fewer larger deals is more profitable.

Asked about these figures, the NatWest spokeswoman pointed out that banks' positions in the table fluctuate all the time.

Since the half-year, NatWest Markets has completed one major transaction, advising BAA on its pounds 400m purchase of Duty Free International of the US. This deal was partly handled in the UK and partly by Gleacher NatWest, the US mergers and acquisitions business bought from top Wall Street deal- maker Eric Gleacher.

However, it appears the deal owed as much to NatWest's existing ties with BAA as to any Hambro Magan connections.

In his heyday Mr Magan, who spends considerable time at his Palladian mansion in Kilkenny in the Republic of Ireland, was one of the City's most renowed deal-makers.

Hambro Magan handled mega-deals such as Ford's pounds 1.6bn takeover of Jaguar and the pounds 1.8bn offer for Fisons by Rhone Poulenc Rorer.

Mr Magan, the largest shareholder at the time of the sale to NatWest, is thought to be tied in to NatWest via golden handcuffs that are designed to keep him at the firm for three years.It is not clear whether the deal was structured to provide performance incentives as well.

Mr Magan was not available for comment on Friday. His secretary said he was at an all-day meeting.