New chapter for M&A as ‘China growth’ story ends
Slowing economy brings more reasonable valuations for target companies, reports Xie Yu inHong Kong.
Aslower economy and the government’s determination to squeeze out overcapacity are offering great opportunities for merger and acquisition activity in China, according to industry experts.
“The end of the ‘China growth’ story is bringing the valuation of target companies down to relatively reasonable levels,” said David Brown, partner and greater China private equity leader with PricewaterhouseCoopers.
The valuations of Chinese companies have been inflated for many years because they always forecast strong organic growth. But now that GDP growth is slowing to about 7.5 percent and growth at the company level is often falling amid intense competition and overcapacity, things have changed.
“It isagoodtimefor investors like us,” said Humbert Pang, managing principal and head of China at Gaw Capital Partners, one of the biggest offshore private equity funds focused on the property segment.
“Price corrections will drive industry consolidation and lead to rational valuations for us to acquire good projects,” he said. Although China’s property market is under intense downwardpressure, withsome even forecasting a hard landing for the industry, more economists and industry insiders said they believe that opportunities and growth lie ahead in major cities and promising sectors such as logistics.
“There are too many developers in China, because getting land and making money were easy before. But more and more are struggling with sluggish sales, pressure from banks and stretched balance sheets this year,” said Lee Shu Yin, managing director and chief investment officer of Grand River Properties (China) Ltd, adding that his company had received requests for co-investment.
A report from PwC said that inbound M&As in China reached a record high during the first half of the year of $12.5 billion, up from about $8.4 billion in the second half of 2013. Cross-border M&A volume carried by Chinese companies hit $40.8 billion in the first three quarters.
“Cross-border M&A is never easy in any market. As for China, the trickiest part is whether your target company has stable leadership and if the boss is determined to do the deal,” said a senior partner with a Shanghai-based cross-border M&A firm who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The State Council, China’s cabinet, and the China Securities Regulatory Commission issued guidelines in March and July, respectively, aimed at simplifying and supportingM&As.
The directives cut administrative procedures and barriers relating to M&As. The government also urged all parties involved in M&As to improve the conditions that affect those transactions, such as financing, taxes, land useandemployee relocation.
The nation’s leaders have repeatedly stressed their intention to pursue reform, which involves cutting excess capacity, forcing the transformation of Stateowned enterprises and upgrading the industrial structure.
Declining producer prices signal just how much pressure industry is under. The Producer Price Index contracted in September for the 31st consecutive month, an obvious sign that theeconomy is encumbered by excess factory capacity.
More than 200 companies listed in the A-share market, or almost 10 percent of the total, were involved in M&A or restructuring deals as of September, the China Securities Journal reported. Market analysts and observers said there are more to come.
SOEs need to specialize, Brown said. Many have a very wide business portfolio, and outside of their core businesses there are numerous areas that are neglected or underperforming, he added.
The SOEs need to spin off those operations, and “that’s the driver for M&As, especially attractive to overseas investors. Because they see the opportunities of acquiring (targets) at reasonable prices and turning the underperforming businesses around”, Brown said.
“The authorities are urging SOEs to diversify their shareholdings by introducing sophisticated shareholders. That will help transform the SOEs into more commercial, market-oriented entities,” he said.
As of mid-August, 18 provincial-level governments, including Beijing, Shanghai and Guangdong, had announced mixed-ownership reforms. In Chongqing, authorities said they will allow twothirds of the local SOEs to have mixed ownership.
Not only the large SOEs such as China Petroleum & Chemical Corp but some smaller, more manageable entities, or thoselikelytobespunofffromlargerSOEs, are increasingly looking to cooperate with investors such as private equity firms.
“There is both a government drive and a commercial drive” for mixed ownership, Brown said.
“Private equity firms and foreign buyers are going to benefit from the economic transition andSOEreform due to their capital strength and business operation skills as more Chinese companies become available for buyouts,” said Brown.
Michael Weiss, managing director and partner of Sailing Capital Advisors, based in Hong Kong, said: “The valuations are moving from an irrationally high level to a fair price.”
“I don’t think people are coming to China to buy things cheap, but they are buying things at a fair price nowadays,” he added. There are different reasons to buy assets in China, which offers a vast market, cheap labor and land, sufficient infrastructure, easy profits and dynamic growth.
Although the economy is not growing as fast as in the past, it is still expanding faster than mature markets. And the demand, cash flow and market potential in China are still very attractive, Weiss said. Contact the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org