Canadian cross-border M&A seen gaining momentum in 2016

By John Tilak and Euan Rocha TORONTO (Reuters) - Lawyers expect cross-border deals to again drive Canadian merger and acquisition activity in 2016 after aggressive moves by Canadian firms spurred a major surge in M&A transactions last year. Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt topped the list of law firms that advised on M&A transactions involving Canadian entities in 2015, followed closely by its Canadian rivals McCarthy Tétrault and Torys, according to Thomson Reuters data released on Thursday. U.S. firms Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom and Sullivan & Cromwell rounded out the top five slots based on overall deal value, while Stikeman Elliott advised on the highest number of deals. Most of the activity was driven by outbound deals, with Canadian banks and insurers eyeing the United States for growth and diversification, and Canadian pension funds looking to put large sums of capital to work overseas. "The volume of cash available for acquisitions, both on balance sheets of strategic players and private equity firms, means there is a lot of money chasing every opportunity," said David Woollcombe, co-head of M&A at McCarthy. "This is keeping prices high and there's a lot of competition for any attractive asset." STRONG MOMENTUM "Despite the volatility, there's strong momentum going into 2016," said Martin Langlois, co-head of M&A at Stikeman Elliott. "There's an appetite for deals and there's no shortage of quality targets. So the opportunities are there." With global deal volumes hitting record levels in 2015, the bullish M&A climate could make it easier for Canadian companies to look for opportunities overseas, said lawyers, who anticipate more M&A activity in the financial services sector. "The time is becoming more ripe for doing deals," said Donald Toumey, a partner with Sullivan & Cromwell. He said he is seeing a greater willingness from companies to move forward on transactions, along with greater willingness from regulators to consider transactions. While cross-border deals are expected to dominate activity in 2016, advisers expect the pendulum to swing in favor of in-bound deals, given a weaker Canadian dollar and inexpensive equity valuations. "The weaker Canadian dollar ought to create some buying opportunities for U.S. companies looking to expand in Canada, as they can acquire assets at a significant relative discount," said Jeremy Fraiberg, co-chair of M&A at Osler. (Reporting by John Tilak and Euan Rocha; Editing by Bill Trott)