As cross-border deal activity increases in Colombia, Goldman, Sachs & Co. is riding the country's M&A wave. The firm has vaulted five places up Colombia's deal league tables this year, grabbing the No. 2 spot, and has advised on the largest-ever acquisition by a Colombian company -- Grupo de Inversiones Suramericana SA's purchase in July of Amsterdam-based ING Groep NV's South American pensions, life insurance and investment management operations for $3.85 billion.
So far this year, Goldman has advised on six Colombian transactions totaling $4.75 billion, just behind J.P. Morgan Chase & Co.'s $6.4 billion, according to Dealogic. This compares with just one deal in 2010, when it worked on Canadian exploration and production company Talisman Energy Inc.'s acquisition of the Colombian oil-and-gas exploration and transportation operations of BP plc. In 2008 and 2009, Goldman was nowhere to be found in Dealogic's Colombian M&A rankings.
Leading the Colombian effort for Goldman is managing director Esteban Gorondi, who has headed Latin American investment banking (ex-Mexico and Brazil) since 2008. A native of Argentina who is now based in New York, Gorondi, 42, joined Goldman as an associate with a Latin American focus in 1997 out of Harvard Business School and was named a managing director in 2008. "Goldman is now covering Colombian clients much more consistently and with a bigger team," he says, but declines to provide specifics.
Gorondi says a key driver of acquisitions by Colombian companies has been the inflation of valuations due to an increase in local equity investing by the country's pension system. These companies' ballooning market capitalizations provide them with the currency they need to make acquisitions. When Goldman advises on asset sales within Latin America and elsewhere, the firm now makes a point to include more prospective Colombian buyers on its list, Gorondi says. (Goldman ranks No. 2 on the overall Latin American M&A league tables, with nearly $20 billion worth of deals, just behind Brazilian bank Itaú BBA.)
High-growth Colombian companies are also becoming cross-border acquisition targets. Companies in mature Latin American markets such as Chile are seeking to invest in high-growth markets such as Colombia. Brazilian companies, meanwhile, are targeting Colombia in a bid to become "fully regional."
While M&A has been occurring across many Colombian industries, "the biggest influx of capital" has been within mining and oil and gas, Gorondi says. "It's very much in the interest of the government to attract capital into these sectors."
Earlier this year, Goldman worked alongside Itaú BBA on an energy deal that had both global and cross-border elements. The firm advised Houston-based energy company AEI Services LLC on the sale of 10 of its operating companies in Colombia, Brazil, Chile, Peru, Panama, Argentina and Poland to nine separate buyers for $4.8 billion. Six of the asset sales involved a Colombian operating company or buyer. The recent pickup in Colombian dealflow may be a new normal with "local capital markets very much open." Gorondi adds: "Of the countries I've covered outside Mexico and Brazil, Colombia is among those that are top of mind to global investors."