Chinese Companies Come Up Empty In Bid For Portuguese Bank

Mergers & Acquisitions | Slowing growth and severe stock market falls have raised fears that China is nearing some sort of crossroads. Some economists believe that, owing to tight central controls, Chinese corporations won’t hit their expected growth targets.

But executives at a number of companies and private equity firms in China have been turning their sites to other targets. Many see Europe’s continued stagnation as a buying opportunity and are actively pursuing western financial institutions. At least 11 acquisitions have taken place over the past year and a half. Anbang Insurance Group and Fosun, China’s largest private conglomerate, have done five deals worth more than $2 billion.

Fosun ran into problems, however, in its recent bid for Portugal’s Novo Banco. Novo Banco is the “good bank” entity created in August 2014 out of the wreckage of the failed Banco Espírito Santo. Anbang, among others, had pulled out of the bidding, leaving Fosun in the driver’s seat. But in mid-September the Bank of Portugal abruptly canceled the sale of the country’s third-largest lender. Officials at the central bank stated that the bid—Fosun’s offer was said to be
€1.5 billion ($1.7 billion)—was too low. That’s not a wholly unexpected stance, given that Portugal’s government injected nearly $5.6 billion in 2014 to rescue Banco Espírito Santo.

Nevertheless, Fosun’s ambitions in Europe will not likely be deterred. The company launched a $1.5 billion rights issue in early September to enable it to grab new opportunities in Europe “as they arise.”

Some observers wonder if the decision last month by China’s State Administration of Foreign Exchange to tighten capital controls will make it harder for Fosun and other Chinese companies to jump on such opportunities. But Chang Liu, China analyst at Capital Economics, points out that the main aim of the currency controls is to stop Chinese companies from fiddling export/import contracts. Some businesses had pulled in money from abroad even though no goods were actually imported.

“The state has been encouraging companies and banks to increase their presence abroad through careful investment,” notes Liu. “And I would expect this to continue as part of a wider strategy of diversification.” If so, the Bank of China and China Construction Bank may well get into the game.