Asia M&A bonanza fuelled by South-east Asia, private equity deals

Chunky deals in South-east Asia included the US$18 billion merger of Gojek with Tokopedia.
Chunky deals in South-east Asia included the US$18 billion merger of Gojek with Tokopedia.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

HONG KONG (REUTERS) - Asian merger and acquisition (M&A) activity surged to its second-highest level ever for a first half as South-east Asian and private equity deals hit records, and bankers expect the strong momentum to be maintained for the rest of the year.

Announced deals involving Asian companies came to US$707.7 billion (S$951.9 billion) in January-June, up 75 per cent from the same period a year earlier and not far off the record of US$758.6 billion logged in the first half of 2018, Refinitiv data showed.

South-east Asia deals jumped 83 per cent to a record US$124.8 billion, driven by blockbuster transactions including ride-hailing giant Grab's US$40 billion merger with United States special-purpose acquisition company (Spac) Altimeter Growth Corp.

Bankers expect South-east Asia to remain a big focus for dealmaking.

"You still haven't seen capex demand come through because the South-east Asian region is still kind of nascent in the recovery but you will start to see this re-emerging alongside refinancing and consolidation and M&A demand," said Mr Amit Khattar, head of investment bank, Asia-Pacific, at Deutsche Bank.

He expects M&A in digital infrastructure such as data centres, telecommunication towers and the consumer sector, as well as real estate transactions, particularly in Singapore, as companies reassess office markets.

Other chunky deals in South-east Asia included the US$18 billion merger of Grab's Indonesian rival Gojek with local e-commerce firm Tokopedia and a US$15 billion merger of the units of Malaysian telecoms firm Axiata Group and Norway's Telenor.

"We're only halfway through the year, but if market conditions remain constructive and based on our backlog, we look well placed to break all records," said Mr David Biller, head of Citigroup's South-east Asia banking, capital markets and advisory business.

"The themes continue to be tech, consumer and healthcare. The spread of capital market and M&A deals is very much across all countries."

Private equity-backed deals more than doubled, to a record US$102 billion.

Asia-focused private equity funds raised US$80.5 billion as at June 25, up 59 per cent from a year ago and the most in two years, according to data provider Preqin. Dry powder in the region hit a new high of US$384.9 billion in June.

Private equity deals were also fuelled by banks' improved lending appetite as many businesses across the region rebounded from last year's pandemic-induced slump.

Acquisition-related financing in the region climbed 16 per cent to US$57 billion as at June 25, Dealogic data showed.

Private equity firms swarmed into auctions of assets such as Hong Kong-based mattress maker King Koil and the China unit of drugmaker Mundipharma, which is owned by the billionaire American Sackler family.

The sale of Reckitt Benckiser Group's China baby formula business was another example, with Primavera Capital Group emerging victorious over a bevy of rivals that included Sequoia Capital, KKR and Carlyle Group.

"A key focus remains on sponsor buysides and exits and in particular on businesses that have been resilient throughout the Covid-19 pandemic," said Mr Rohit Satsangi, Deutsche's co-head of Asia M&A and head of Asia financial sponsors.

Spac-related transactions slowed as regulators tightened oversight, but bankers are hopeful that many discussions about so-called de-spac deals, when Spacs merge with target firms, will lead to transactions over the coming months.

"A significant factor driving de-Spac and M&A activity is investor optimism over the emergence of disruptive and fast-growing companies in the new mobility, renewable energy and technology sectors," said Mr Rich Wong, Morgan Stanley's head of M&A, Asia-Pacific.

Morgan Stanley took the top spot in the region's M&A league table for announced deals, followed by JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs.