NEWS ANALYSIS

China's M&A activity shrinks amid security, regulatory hurdles

There was a moment earlier this year when China Inc appeared to be single-handedly keeping mergers and acquisitions (M&A) bankers in their Maseratis and Patek Philippes.

Chinese companies have announced US$128.5 billion (S$178 billion) of proposed, pending or completed outbound deals this year, well ahead of the US$106.6 billion from the United States, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

With state-owned crane maker Zoomlion Heavy abandoning its pursuit of US rival Terex last week, that wave shows signs of receding. Transactions valued at billions of dollars have now fallen by the wayside. 

 US national security issues scuppered China Resources' US$2.5 billion bid for chipmaker Fairchild and Tsinghua Unisplendour's attempt to invest US$3.8 billion in disk-drive maker Western Digital.

There are also domestic hurdles. Zoomlion failed to gain support from China's foreign-exchange regulator to convert yuan to dollars for the Terex purchase, an issue that's also holding up a take-private offer for antivirus software business Qihoo 360. 

With the yuan again weakening and some analysts predicting renewed capital outflows, regulators are even less likely to look kindly on currency-sapping overseas purchases.

Anbang Insurance's US$14 billion bid for Starwood Hotels was scrapped in March, with Caixin Online reporting that Beijing's insurance regulator had voiced opposition.

The biggest of the crop - ChemChina's US$43 billion acquisition of Swiss pesticide and seed-maker Syngenta - remains in limbo after several farm-state senators called on the US government to again play the national security card.

In the meantime, the value of outbound deals in May looks set to decline for the third straight month, according to data compiled by Bloomberg, with the value of completed transactions heading to its lowest level since April 2015.

With the yuan again weakening and some analysts predicting renewed capital outflows, regulators are even less likely to look kindly on currency-sapping overseas purchases.

Don't be surprised if the M&A tally continues to decline.

That's something that should really keep the bankers up at night: They don't get their big payday unless a deal goes through.

BLOOMBERG

•This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 31, 2016, with the headline 'China's M&A activity shrinks amid security, regulatory hurdles'. Print Edition | Subscribe