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May 27, 2010 6:25 PM

Fire Up That Grill: A Pre-Memorial Day Deal Roundup

Posted by Brian Baxter

As the weather warms up around Am Law Daily headquarters, it appears the once-moribund M&A market is also finally starting to get hot. Two major energy transactions, plus the sale of a British supermarket chain and a pair of beer deals bode well for corporate lawyers with an eye on headier times.

Asda Group, the U.K. arm of U.S. retail giant Wal-Mart, announced on Thursday that it had acquired Netto Foodstores from Danish chain Dansk Supermarked for $1.1 billion. The acquisition by Asda, which was bought by Wal-Mart in 2003, requires the approval of British regulators.

Calls to representatives for Asda and Netto were not immediately returned by the time of this post, but a story last year by Legal Week notes that the Leeds-based company recently reduced the size of its list of preferred outside legal advisers from 16 to three.

Another deal reportedly on the verge of completion as the Memorial Day weekend arrives is the sale of an American icon--Pabst Blue Ribbon. As much as we'd like to imagine a conference room of corporate lawyers slaking their M&A thirst with cans of blue-and-white goodness, an outside spokeswoman for Woodridge, Ill.-based Pabst Brewing declined to comment on any impending buyout when contacted by The Am Law Daily.

Pabst, owner of classic brands like PBR, Schlitz, Old Milwaukee, and Colt 45, will soon be sold to veteran food executive C. Dean Metropoulos for $250 million, according to The Wall Street Journal. Hopefully after outside counsel finishes hammering out the final details--and reading the fine print on their cans of PBR--they'll drop us a line. (After covering the lawyers behind the Anheuser-Busch/InBev, Magic Hat, and Wild Turkey deals, we've come to enjoy the alcoholic beverage beat.) 

Some other noteworthy deals and the legal advisers who helped hammer them out:

AU Optronics / SunPower

Taiwanese flat-panel maker AU Optronics and San Jose-based solar panel manufacturer SunPower probably couldn't pick a better time than Thursday to announce the formation of a $1.2 billion joint venture to build a $700 million solar-cell plant in Malaysia.

R. Todd Johnson, the founding partner of Jones Day's Silicon Valley office and the head of the firm's renewable energy and sustainability practice, led a team from the firm advising SunPower on the deal.

Capital markets partner Steve Gillette, tax partner Lester Droller, antitrust partner Margaret Ward, banking and finance partner James Olson, IP partner Spencer Simon, and of counsel Richard Meamber, Nevin Boparai, and Alex Kingsley rounded out the team from the firm. Johnson and Jones Day have a longtime relationship with SunPower, having previously advised the company on its $277 million acquistion of SunRay Renewable Energy in February and $322 acquisition of PowerLight in January 2007.

Hsinchu, Taiwan-based AU Optronics turned to Davis Polk & Wardwell for the deal. Corporate partners Show-Mao Chen and associates Andrew Lin and Weitseng Chen led the team from the firm. Davis Polk's Hong Kong office has handled previous transactions for the company, which along with SunPower will contribute $350 million in equity and procure debt financing for the project.

Statoil / Sinochem

While a renewed emphasis on clean energy might be one immediate by-product of the recent events taking place in the Gulf of Mexico, Big Oil is still big money.

Beijing-based Sinochem, China's largest trading company and first multinational conglomerate, was recently named the winning bidder for a $3 billion stake in a Brazilian offshore oil field owned by Norwegian oil and gas firm Statoil.

Alex Msimang, managing partner of the London office of Vinson & Elkins, advised Statoil on the transaction along with associates Kevin Atkins, Anna Chard, and Dmitri Tchernenko. Boyd Carano, a project finance and development partner in V&E's Palo Alto office, advised Statoil on U.S. aspects of the deal along with associate Roxanne Almaraz.

Sinochem turned to a team of lawyers from Baker Botts led by London-based energy project and environmental special counsel Hamish McArdle. Libin Zhang, chief representative in the Beijing office of Baker Botts, also advised on the deal along with associates Chevonese Lindo, Laure Cochet, Hannah Longley, Emma Halliwell, and Lucy Powell. Brazilian firm Demarest & Almeida served as local counsel to Sinochem.

The deal will see Sinochem take a 40 percent stake from Statoil in the Peregrine oil field, which is located in Brazil's offshore Campos Basin.

Foster's Demerger

Best known for being "Australian for beer," Foster's Group wants you to know that it makes wine too. The Aussie brewer announced this week that it would split its beer and wine businesses as a possible prelude to a sale of one of the units, The New York Times reports.

Australian firm Corrs Chambers Westgarth advised Fosters on the demerger. Braddon Jolley, one of the top M&A lawyers Down Under, is leading a team from the firm on the transaction that also includes corporate partners Justin Fox and Jeremy Davis, M&A partner Sandy Mak, and tax partner Reynah Tang.

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