In the red corner

Independent advisory firm Caliburn Partnership and long time Australian M&A advisory leader UBS are playing the key roles in the mooted $70 billion merger between Westpac and St George, which will be by far the country’s biggest corporate transaction should it go ahead.

The Caliburn team is led by managing director Peter Hunt and includes Jamie Garis and Peter Wilson. They are sitting across the table from a UBS team headed by its newly appointed country chief Matthew Grounds, and its financial institutions specialist Shane Doyle.

Caliburn is believed to have been planning this move with Westpac for several months, while UBS has had a long standing mandate with St George to look at its defensive options.

The Sydney-based St George has been on the shopping list of all the four majors for years, but the trigger for Westpac’s move has been the credit crisis, which has caused a dramatic change in the spreads being paid by AA rated institutions such as Westpac and single A institutions such as St George.

The spread difference on 5-year subordinated debt, which stood at around 15 basis points a year ago, now stands at 75 basis points, which means the cost of debt for St George is now significantly higher than for its larger rivals.

Westpac expects that situation to be a major influence in the talks that were begun between the two chairmen last Friday, and which continued at chairman and other levels all through the weekend. It seems as though few of those involved got much sleep.

The 20-strong Westpac acquisition team is headed by Rob Whitfield, a former chief risk officer and head of its treasury operations, who went part-time last year but is brought in for special projects.

The legal issues are being handled by Gary Lawler at Gilbert & Tobin on behalf of Westpac, with Gina Cass-Gottlieb looking at competition issues. Ewen Crouch at Allens Arthur Robinson heads the team helping St George.

Westpac has also brought in government lobbyists Hawker Britton to help with government issues. The team of Bruce Hawker and Justin di Lollo are liasing with Westpac’s head of government relations, Victoria Somlyey.

The public relations mandates, which will be considerably considering the size and breath of the proposed deal and the number of shareholders it will affect, have been handed to FD Third Person. A team led by Ross Thornton and including Chris Lacey and Andrew Stokes is helping long-standing Westpac PR advisor David Lording.

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