This year kicked off with a bang, with Rental Service Corp. and NationsRent walking to the altar in a billion-dollar merger. But before they could seal the deal, United Rentals would launch a hostile bid, setting in motion a swirl of legal challenges and counterspin that dominated the industry's attention for months. And by the end of June, Atlas Copco had swooped into the fray, buying RSC and creating the second-largest rental company in the industry.
Hostile takeover bids? Stakeouts of company executives? It was unprecedented in the world of tool rentals and some of the details played out like a soap opera. There were other rental stories, however, in those first six months - significant stories that may have been lost in the shuffle.
After the dust settled on the seven-month battle for Rental Service Corp., the pace of consolidation slowed considerably in the second half of 1999. Considering Atlas Copco paid more than $1.6 billion - the highest price tag in industry history - for the right to merge RSC with Prime Service, perhaps a collective deep breath was in order.
Still, rental players didn't go to sleep; in fact, some developments hinted that the groundwork was being laid for more change within the industry, with major mergers on the manufacturing side; expanded dealer rental programs; and overtures from overseas rental concerns.
A selection of news highlights from last year follows.
JANUARY * United Rentals sells $300 million of preferred stock - about 15 percent of its ownership - to private investment firm Apollo Management. Apollo increases its stake to about 16 percent in June.
* Rental Service Corp. and NationsRent agree to merge in a deal that would create the industry's second billion-dollar company.
FEBRUARY * HERC completes its acquisition of Certified Rentals, No. 28 on the RER 100, one of the largest Canadian rental companies.
* United acquires three Canadian companies with 24 combined locations, giving it more than 60 branches north of the border.
MARCH * Ritchie Bros. acquires Forke Auctioneers, its most significant competitor in the auction industry.
* United acquires 10 rental companies and 41 locations, including Forte Rentals, No. 43 on the RER 100.
APRIL * In a battle that will take twists and turns throughout the summer, United launches a billion-dollar hostile takeover bid for RSC and files two lawsuits, alleging RSC's board of directors breached their fiduciary responsibility to shareholders.
* RSC rejects United's hostile bid as RSC CEO Martin Reid takes medical leave. Reid, credited with RSC's improbable turnaround from bankruptcy three years earlier, does not return to his post.
MAY * New Holland agrees to acquire Case Corp. for $4.3 billion in cash in a deal that will create the world's third-largest construction equipment manufacturer, behind Caterpillar and Komatsu. The deal will be finalized in December.
* RSC and NationsRent terminate their merger, paving the way for United and other companies to pursue a deal for RSC.
* JLG acquires Gradall Industries for $200 million, giving the leading aerial lift manufacturer entry into the material handler and excavator markets.
* Brown Brothers Harriman agrees to pay $100 million to acquire almost 25 percent of National Equipment Services, No. 7 on the RER 100.
* United buys aerial specialist Mi-Jack with revenue of about $54 million and signs an agreement to acquire Arayco, No. 38 on the RER 100.
JUNE * Air compressor manufacturer Atlas Copco, parent of Prime Service, jumps into the RSC fray, offering $1.63 billion for RSC. The deal, which closes a month later, ends a seven-month saga and creates the industry's second-largest company behind United.
* GE Power Systems forms GE Energy Rentals to pursue the temporary power and temperature control rental market.
* Meyer International, parent of one of the United Kingdom's largest rental operations, buys RentX Industries, No. 16 on the RER 100, for about $100 million. Formed in 1996, RentX was one of the rental industry's first consolidators, focusing on light contractor and homeowner segments.
* Terex agrees to acquire Powerscreen International, parent of compaction specialist Benford America, for $294 million.
JULY * Private equity investment firm Bruckman, Rosser, Sherrill & Co. acquires ICM Equipment, No. 12 on the RER 100, and Head & Enquist Equipment, a Louisiana-based distributor and rental house.
* United Rentals acquires Elmen Enterprises, No. 14 on the RER 100 and Udelson Equipment, No. 30, as well as 11 other rental companies, bringing its annual revenue run rate to more than $2 billion.
* NationsRent sells $100 million of preferred stock - about 20 percent of the company - to Investcorp, the former owner of Prime until its billion-dollar sale to Atlas Copco in 1997.
AUGUST * National Equipment Services buys underground construction equipment specialist The Plank Co., with 22 locations and about $30 million in revenue. Later in the month, NES acquires computer software supplier Management Technology America.
* Deere dealer RDO Equipment begins exploring a possible sale of its rental arm, RDO Rental Co., No. 45 on the RER 100.
* In a move that catches many industry insiders by surprise, Textron, a $10.5 billion global conglomerate with no previous interests in the construction segment, agrees to buy material handler and lift manufacturer Omniquip International for $477 million.
SEPTEMBER * Ashtead Group, the U.K.-based parent of Sunbelt Rentals, No. 11 on the RER 100, begins exploring a partnership to help it grow its U.S. operations, which span 10 states and 72 locations.
* U.K.-based Rentokil-Initial announces that it may sell Initial Plant Services, No. 5 on the RER 100.
* Burch-Lowe, No. 40 on the RER 100, sells its lift division to Lift Systems of Georgia.
OCTOBER * Neff Corp., seeking divestment opportunities since April, agrees to sell its 65 percent interest in Sullair Argentina for $42.5 million, which it acquired in June 1998.
* HERC acquires pump specialist Service Pump & Compressor, with 13 locations and about $14 million in annual revenue.
* NES buys Safety Lights of Texas, a traffic equipment specialist with about $20 million in annual revenue.
* Power systems manufacturer Cummins Onan forms Cummins Power Rent to target the rapidly growing power rental market.
NOVEMBER * Nortrax, a newly formed venture between Deere and Credit Suisse Group, buys Neff Machinery, the dealer unit of Neff Corp., for $91 million.
* Aerial work platform manufacturer Skyjack Inc. announces that it will explore a possible sale, following several quarters of disappointing profit and revenue.
* Amazon.com acquires Tool Crib of the North, a tools catalog company, and announces it is launching a home-improvement store on its Web site.
* RSC unveils a Web service called E-Facts and a sales automation program for its field reps as part of a push to forge technology-based relationships with its customers.
DECEMBER * United CEO Brad Jacobs and other company officials buy a combined 700,000 additional shares in United.
* "Positive cyclical construction spending trends are being enhanced by stronger and more important secular growth trends that have made increasing numbers of equipment renters out of equipment owners the last several years," says a report from Goldman Sachs. "Well-positioned rental companies should continue to experience a healthy operational tailwind in 2000 that will support strong internal growth."
* Ironmax.com, a Web site devoted to the sale and rental of equipment, is launched by Steve Paradis, former president of Resco, a former RER 100 company acquired by Prime in 1997.