This year's buyout market in the UK could be the worst since 1997, according to new research.
Deals worth £9.2bn were struck in the first nine months of 2003, say the latest figures from the Centre for Management Buy-Out Research (CMBOR) at Nottingham Business School.
The centre predicts that the total year's deal values will not exceed 1998's total of £14.5bn. "We are heading for a third consecutive down year," said Tom Lamb, managing director of Barclays Private Equity.
"At the current run rate, the buyout market is likely to end the year at £12bn - way off the heady heights of £24bn in 2000," he added.
The total number of deals achieved was 444 but the activity was centred on mid-market deals, a segment that has been more successful.
"There is clear evidence that mid-market activity remains stable and deal flows in the £25m to £75m range are bolstering the volume," said Mark Pacitti, private equity partner at Deloitte & Touche Corporate Finance.
"In this very competitive segment of the market the nine-month total of £2.2bn already exceeds last year's 12- month total of £1.8bn."
Proposed deals at Debenhams and New Look could boost the numbers if they are approved by shareholders. However, investors are increasingly reluctant to let their companies go cheaply, as demonstrated during WestLB's aborted bid for water group AWG and retailer John Lovering's unsuccessful offer for Somerfield.
The total value of public-to-private deals in the first three-quarters of the year was £2bn, with 30 deals completed.
Buyout activity soared between 1994 and 2000 but has dropped sharply since the heyday of the technology boom in 2000.
Deloitte & Touche and Barclays Private Equity both sponsor the CMBOR research.