'Bombed-out valuations' still a worry for the City despite 'encouraging' Deutsche Bank takeover of Numis Securities
For some time now, the City has been doing some soul-searching over its future.
There was a lot of speculation around the time of Brexit that, deprived of the "passport" that enabled UK-based firms to do business in the EU without having permission from each individual country regulator, there would be heavy job losses in the Square Mile and Canary Wharf as jobs haemorrhaged away to Frankfurt, Paris, Luxembourg, Dublin and Amsterdam.
That has failed to happen - and, in fact, some 45,000 more people are employed in the City and the Wharf than before the coronavirus pandemic.
More recently, though, there has been a lot of discussion about the attractiveness of the UK stock market.
The FTSE 100 has for some time been more cheaply rated than some of its global peers, not only the main US index, the S&P 500, but also some continental European peers such as the DAX 40 and CAC 40.
That has been accompanied by a trickle of bad news on individual listings.
The chip designer Arm Holdings, a flagship of the UK tech sector, resisted UK government entreaties to pursue a secondary stock market listing in London as it opted to list on the Nasdaq instead.
Then CRH, the owner of Tarmac and the world's biggest building materials company, announced it was moving its main listing from London to New York and Flutter Entertainment, the owner of gaming businesses including Paddy Power and Betfair, indicated it would be doing the same.
Some of the commentary around all of these has created an impression that the lights were going out in offices across the Wharf and the Square Mile.
So news that Deutsche Bank is buying the broking and corporate advisory firm Numis Securities for £410m will have come as a surprise to many.
Not least because the statement from Germany's largest lender is so incredibly warm about the UK's capital markets.
Deutsche said that Numis, which employs 344 people, would enable it to engage more deeply with corporate clients in the UK.
It added: "The UK is the largest investment banking market in Europe and Deutsche Bank has been evaluating how to accelerate the growth of its business in the UK.
"Numis is a diversified investment bank with a leading UK franchise and a long history of successfully delivering superior client service and growth and therefore represents a compelling strategic fit."
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It is a statement that reads like a huge vote of confidence not only in Numis, its management and its employees, but also in the broader UK financial services sector and the City in particular.
That can particularly be argued in view of Deutsche's stated aim of becoming a so-called "house bank" - one which is focused on serving German businesses overseas or overseas businesses trading in Germany.
Encouraging turn of events
Deutsche appears to be preparing for either an uptick in British investment in its homeland or of further German investment in the UK.
It is an encouraging turn of events.
Let's also be clear, though, that Deutsche is getting a bargain.
The 350p-a-share take-out price may well represent a 72% premium to the closing price on Thursday evening and a 60% premium to the average price at which Numis shares have traded over the last three months, but it is still only pitched at where shares of Numis were changing hands just 15 months ago.
What has happened since then, of course, is that Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine and the global economy has been rocked by surging inflation as a consequence.
The way central banks around the world have been forced to respond by rapidly raising interest rates has led growth to slow everywhere and has slowed the volume of stock market flotations and mergers and acquisitions on which companies like Numis rely to generate fees.
That was particularly the case in the UK due to the extra layer of uncertainty created by the mini-budget in September last year.
Numis saw its revenues fall by one-third last year - so some sceptics may well view this as a distress sale.
Numis, founded in 1989 by the entrepreneur Oliver Hemsley, is far from being alone in this respect.
This deal comes barely a month after two smaller broking and advisory firms, FinnCap and Cenkos Securities, announced they were tying the knot.
Latest reflection of 'bombed-out valuations'
It is possible that there will be more consolidation after today and, to that end, it is worth noting that shares of Peel Hunt, a rival to Numis in particular, shot up 10% on the news.
And bear in mind also that a number of UK mid-cap companies - ironically the sort of businesses Numis and Peel Hunt advise - have recently agreed to takeovers or have been approached by would-be buyers.
They include John Wood Group, Dechra Pharmaceuticals, Dignity, Network International and Hyve Group and the interest stems partly because these companies are comparatively cheap.
So, while this takeover does feel like a vote of confidence in the City, it is also the latest reflection of the bombed-out valuations on which some UK-listed stocks have been trading.