Chinese firms are spending less on overseas deals, but they’ve become more strategic

FAN Editor

China’s foreign mergers and acquisitions slowed again in the first half of this year, according to global management consulting firm Bain and Company.

While the slowdown has been notable, Chinese companies are now taking a more sophisticated approach to acquisitions and learning valuable lessons from past mistakes, Bain noted in a report released Thursday.

Chinese overseas acquisitions during the first half of this year reached $22 billion — significantly less than the $56.7 billion the same period in 2017 and $118.7 billion during the first half of 2016, according to Bain.

The report attributed the slowdown to factors such as the weakening Chinese yuan, the trade war with the United States, investment restrictions by some countries and the Chinese government paying closer attention to overseas investments by its companies.

But there is ample room for future growth, Bain said, stressing that China only spends about half of what Japan does on overseas acquisitions as a percentage of GDP.

Beijing has been seeking to project its growing economic power and influence overseas through the massive Belt and Road Initiative, which aims to revive ancient trade routes connecting it with regions including Europe, Central Asia and the Middle East.

But it hasn’t all been smooth-sailing for Chinese companies going abroad. Critics in countries including Sri Lanka and Malaysia have questioned the fairness of financing and costs for deals involving the Belt and Road.

Some high profile deals have gone sour and businesses are also facing increasing hurdles in overseas markets over concerns about security and fairness.

After some past difficulties, Bain stressed that Chinese companies are learning as they go and making smart adjustments when buying up foreign enterprises.

The report noted that companies are avoiding mistakes by being more rigorous and strategic in how they approach foreign acquisitions as well as more skillfully dealing with cultural issues.

“In the past, many Chinese acquirers assumed that they would need to take full control of, or at least strongly influence, the management of an acquired business,” said the report.

“Now, leaders take a more sophisticated approach,” the report said, citing the example of clothing giant Shandong Ruyi Technology Group which learned that “it pays to use a lighter control model.” The company typically leaves the acquired company’s brand management team in place, and instead, focuses its energy on bringing those acquired brands to China, according to the report.

“China’s outbound boom will only continue as companies look to capture new capabilities that strengthen their domestic position while also growing overseas for a leadership position in industries in which they can gain a competitive edge,” the Bain report noted.

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