Rising Asia replaces falling China in M&A bankers’ sights
Outbound Chinese M&A deal-flow has slowed to a crawl even as inbound activity remains steady. So focus in the region is moving elsewhere: to rising India, steady-and-lucrative Australia and even Japan, where once-bloated conglomerates are streamlining portfolios under intense pressure from activist shareholders.
In February 2016, ChemChina, a Beijing-based chemicals firm, bought Switzerland’s Syngenta for just under $45 billion.
In the view of the acquirer, of regulators on three continents, and of M&A bankers involved at the time, it was an epochal deal. It was not just its size, or the fact that it managed to get over the line at all amid heightened regulatory scrutiny: it took nearly 18 months for the US Federal Trade Commission to give it the green light.
More than that, it seemed like the start of an era. On the surface, the deal made a lot of sense. It involved the sale of a leader in agricultural science, particularly seed development, to a country with a fifth of the world’s population but just 7% of its arable land. China needed help feeding its people as its soil and climate degraded; Syngenta’s shareholders were only too happy to agree.
Yet as it turned out, that transaction marked the beginning of the end of an era that was, in hindsight, over almost before it began. China outbound M&A activity peaked in 2016, when 781 deals worth $212.6 billion were struck, according to Dealogic.