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Booming mainland M&A market bucks global trend
( 2003-11-21 10:09) (China Daily HK Edition)

China is the only market bucking the trend of diminishing merger and acquisition (M&A) activity around the globe.

The nation has become the most active M&A market in Asia - doubling to US$29 billion last year and reaching US$24 billion in the first nine months this year, according to Todd Marin, managing director and Asia Pacific M&A head of JP Morgan.

That contrasts with the decline of the global M&A market to US$1 trillion in 2002 from US$3.4 trillion two years earlier.

Behind the boom in the Chinese M&A market is rapid economic growth - 8 per cent or more annually - and a fast developing capital market, Marin said at an M&A summit that ended yesterday in Beijing.

Most of the deals in China this year and last year were in oil, gas and financial-service companies.

The Chinese oil giants, with strong balance sheets and capital base following overseas listing, have been very aggressive in acquiring overseas oil fields; and foreign financial institutions are also buying into Chinese banks and insurance companies.

Marin categorized M&A deals in China into four types - domestic M&As, connected party transactions, acquisitions of Chinese companies by foreign multinationals (inward cross-border deals) and overseas expansion by Chinese companies (outward cross-border).

During the first nine months of 2003, connected party transactions took the lion's share, 50 per cent, followed by domestic deals of 31 per cent, according to statistics of Thompson Financial SDC.

Multinational acquisitions of Chinese companies accounted for 16 per cent and outward investment was the least at 3 per cent.

The increase in domestic M&As is due to intensifying industrial consolidation in China, said Hua Ding'an, chief economist of China Merchants Group Ltd.

But multinationals interested in Chinese enterprises often face issues of controlling rights and deal with complicated property-rights schemes.

China needs to improve transparency and catch up with international standards in this aspect to attract more foreign investors.

Other issues that often bother foreign companies include complicated government regulations, asset evaluation and some social factors, said Marin.

As the renminbi is not fully convertible under the capital account, it also adds some uncertainty to the deals.

The policy restrictions will be gradually removed, so the sphere of foreign investment in M&As will expand in future, said Xu Lijun, a fund manager with the securities asset management department of Guotai Jun'an Securities Co.

Hong Kong investors and red chips, which are more familiar with the Chinese market, will participate more actively in transactions with the domestic listed companies.

Regarding the sectors, foreign investors are generally more interested in finance, manufacturing - such as automobile, home appliances and machinery - public utilities, commerce, transportation and real estate, Xu said.

The tertiary industry will attract more foreign investment as China gradually opens up according to its World Trade Organization commitments; and instead of launching joint ventures, more will use the M&A route to gain controlling rights, he said.

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