Chinese firms should be wary of overseas obstacles

Source:Global Times Published: 2017/7/12 23:58:40

Illustration: Peter C. Espina/GT

A recent report from the National Audit Office of China said that some of the 20 centrally administrated State-owned companies that had been audited recently had suffered losses in their overseas mergers and acquisitions (M&As). There are also concerns over the rising debt ratios of some privately owned companies as a result of overseas expansion.

With the continuous economic development in China, it is of course an inevitable trend for Chinese companies to make overseas investments to accelerate their globalization. Nevertheless, past experience has shown that excessive spending should not become the main approach for Chinese companies when trying to make inroads in international markets.

Chinese companies have sometimes overpaid when going global, as evidenced by the very high premiums charged for their M&A targets. For instance, China National Offshore Oil Corp (CNOOC) bought Canadian oil producer Nexen Inc for $15.1 billion in 2013, with a hefty 60 percent premium to the latter's value. Yet, the average premium in acquisition deals of North American oil companies was around 30 percent over the past five years. After the deal, oil prices collapsed, and this plus the depreciation of the Canadian dollar against the US dollar resulted in heavy losses for CNOOC.

Some people believe that Chinese companies have had to pay high premiums in outbound M&As so as to overcome various obstacles from foreign governments, employees, shareholders and management. Chinese companies often face resistance or discrimination from foreign authorities under the guise of national security, especially when it comes to the potential acquisition of energy or technology companies. In 2005, CNOOC dropped its bid for US oil group Unocal Corp, citing politics as the reason. It then turned to Canada and ended up paying a high premium for Nexen.

The ideology conflict between the East and the West has aggravated government resistance in many M&A cases. Resistance may also come from labor unions or even national sentiment and cultural conflict. The most recent example involved Dalian Wanda Group's proposed purchase of a landmark building in Madrid. Due to strong opposition from the Spanish government and local residents, Wanda failed to carry out restoration work to the property according to its original plan and it recently announced the sale of the asset for 272 million euros ($312 million), a little bit higher than the original purchase price of 265 million euros in 2014. Yet, since the euro has depreciated and the yuan has strengthened over the past few years, Wanda actually lost nearly 200 million yuan ($29.5 million) from the deal.

Wanda's case may serve as a reminder that Chinese companies should be aware that money doesn't work all the time in overseas expansion. They should be fully aware of the difficulties in the deal and the integration process and should avoid a bidding war. By acquiring foreign companies, Chinese companies may introduce foreign product technologies and services into the massive domestic market so that the target companies' customer base could achieve exponential growth.

In this sense, a recommended globalization approach for Chinese companies should be to start by moving part of the manufacturing chain, such as research and development, or raw material production, to an overseas market so as to enhance their product creation ability, which can serve the Chinese market in the first place.

Such a win-win approach is not only applicable to Chinese companies, but could also be used by companies based in other emerging market economies. Take India as an example. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's aggressive economic reform measures are widely expected to unleash the country's economic vitality. After five to 10 years of economic growth, Indian companies will also be rich enough to start their global expansion and they may refer to Chinese companies' experience to avoid paying high prices in the process.

The article was compiled based on an interview with Wang Cong, professor of finance at the China Europe International Business School.

Posted in: INSIDER'S EYE

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