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Bank buildings are seen in Toronto's financial district on Nov. 24, 2016.

Mark Blinch/The Globe and Mail

A bevy of blockbuster equity offerings propelled by brisk mergers and acquisitions activity made 2016 a record year for stock sales in Canada.

Last year, companies in Canada raised $51.2-billion in stock, according to data compiled by Thomson Reuters, eclipsing the previous record of $49.4-billion set in 2009. The fourth quarter was particularly strong, with $11.3-billion raised during the last three months of 2016 compared to $6.8-billion in the same period in 2015.

After a quieter October ahead of the U.S. election, the month of November saw a surge in both equity and debt offerings, ending a volatile year on a positive note. Bankers on Bay Street are beginning 2017 with a more optimistic outlook, which is the opposite of how many started 2016. Many are confident that the new year will bring new business their way including new listings for public companies.

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The investment-banking arms of Canada's big six banks dominated stock sales by collectively capturing 74 per cent of the market in 2016, beating out big-name foreign dealers and putting more pressure on non-bank-owned Canadian dealers.

TD Securities Inc. claimed the top spot in equities underwriting last year, raising $9.7-billion on behalf of its clients and narrowly beating RBC Dominion Securities Inc. TD was involved in Canada's four largest stock sales of 2016.

The energy and pipeline sectors showed particular strength in 2016 after a relatively slow 2015, with Suncor Energy Inc., Encana Corp., Enbridge Inc. and TransCanada Corp. unveiling multibillion-dollar equity deals last year.

In March, TransCanada raised $4.4-billion in the largest share sale in Canadian history to help fund its $10.2-billion (U.S.) purchase of Columbia Pipeline Group Inc. It did this by selling subscription receipts in a bought deal led by RBC and TD. In those types of transactions, an underwriter buys an entire offering from an issuer at a discount, hoping to resell these securities to third parties in exchange for a tidy commission. TransCanada later raised an additional $3.5-billion (Canadian) in a separate bought deal.

National Bank Financial Inc., meanwhile, ranked first in 2016 for total debt raised by a single investment bank, including government and corporate bonds. It marked the first time in a decade that RBC didn't claim the top spot in this category.

The last time RBC was knocked out of first place was in 2005, when TD edged ahead, according to data compiled by Thomson Reuters. That year, National Bank Financial ranked ninth in the combined table and had been involved in just three deals for $385-million, or less than 1 per cent of all offerings.

In 2016, National Bank Financial controlled almost 20 per cent of the entire debt market, when measuring lead underwriters. Almost 95 per cent of the $32.4-billion it helped raise was government debt, which included mandates from Canada Housing Trust, CPPIB Capital Inc., cities in Quebec such as Montreal, Quebec City and Laval, and the province itself.

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"It has been a long time coming," Sean St. John, the head of fixed income and equity and debt capital markets at National Bank Financial, said during an interview. "The recipe is quite simple. We have the best in trading, the best in origination, we have the best in sales and the best in research. It is all coming together at this time."

Mr. St. John says National Bank Financial has focused its resources on the government debt market for the last 15 years. Now, the bank has its sights set on replicating this success in the corporate space.

But it won't be easy. In 2016, National Bank Financial raised $1.9-billion in debt for other companies. RBC, on the other hand, commanded the corporate table, raising $13.1-billion in debt and capturing 27.4 per cent of the market.

Mergers and acquisitions activity in 2016, meanwhile, was dominated by big deals, with several Canadian companies acquiring foreign businesses to fuel their growth. Enbridge's $37-billion acquisition of Spectra Energy Corp., which is based in Houston, was the biggest transaction of the year.

Morgan Stanley was the top financial adviser, advising on 20 transactions valued at $99-billion (U.S.). Barclays ended in second place and RBC finished in third. They advised on deals valued at $89.6-billion and $87.8-billion, respectively.

Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP topped the legal tables by advising on 17 deals worth $93-billion. The New York City-based firm was retained by either the target or acquirer in Canada's four largest deals of 2016.

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Measured by number of deals, lawyers at Stikeman Elliot LLP were retained in 124 M&A transactions, the most among law firms last year. Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP advised on 119 deals.

Editor’s note: The spelling of Sean St. John's name has been corrected in the online version of this story.

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