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Zhejiang private firms boost M&A moves

By Shi Jing in Shanghai | China Daily | Updated: 2013-02-21 10:38

When it comes to overseas acquisitions by Chinese companies, most people think of the mega deals involving large State-owned enterprises in sectors such as oil and steel.

However, sometimes the real action is not in those splashy headlines, but in the cold figures of provincial government bureaus.

Those figures show that the biggest growth in outbound investment is fueled by hundreds of medium-sized manufacturing companies, especially those in the industrial heartland of the Yangtze River Delta region.

Data from Zhejiang province's Department of Commerce showed that in 2012, the number of overseas deals by private companies there reached 63, accounting for 33 percent of the national total of 191 deals.

At the same time, a recent PricewaterhouseCoopers report said that the value of M&A deals done by private companies increased a staggering 171 percent last year.

"The slowdown of China's economic growth and the uncertainties in the global economy last year spurred the outbound deals," said Ma Shuzhong, a professor at the international economy department at Zhejiang University's College of Economics.

Other than the traditional deals seen in previous years in labor-intensive industries such as textiles and food and beverage, Zhejiang company owners last year mainly focused on acquiring brands, technologies and distribution channels in industries like manufacturing, new energy, wholesale and business services, according to the province's commerce authority.

Company owners told the Department of Commerce that the timing was right for such moves because price tags were relatively lower, and they believe that overseas investments are one of the best ways to boost exports.

In July 2012, China Youngman Automobile Group Co Ltd in central Zhejiang's Jinhua city bought a 74.9 percent stake in German bus maker Viseon Bus GmbH.

Pang Qingnian, founder and president of Youngman, said that the deal will help his firm get hold of the "world's most advanced manufacturing standards".

In December, the Hangzhou-based Wanxiang Group Corp - the largest domestic maker of auto components - acquired the United States-based battery maker A123 Systems Inc.

Wanxiang said the deal will further facilitate the development of electric cars using A123's core technologies, and allows the Chinese firm to tap into the US company's well-known brand and global distribution channels.

The growing awareness of the importance of acquiring the target companies' technological know-how and brands will become even more important among Chinese companies, said Zhejiang University's Ma.

"Overseas investments are closely associated with growth in exports. With outbound M&A deals, peripheral industries will be boosted as exports pick up," Ma said.

"Last year, we saw a lot of trade protectionism as the global economy remained sluggish. Company owners in Zhejiang had to take the initiative."

The surge in overseas acquisition deals by private companies in Zhejiang came as China's outbound M&A deals also soared in 2012.

The PwC report said that the increasing value of private companies indicates that "the private sector will be key driver of future China outbound M&As".

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