The China syndrome
Until recently, middle market deal activity with regards to China meant one of two things: 1) Finding lucrative ways for U.S.-based private equity firms to outsource their portfolio companies’ manufacturing needs to China, or 2) finding ways for those companies to sell into the Chinese market and take advantage of the country’s burgeoning middle class. During the past several years, however, the focus has shifted.
Today, Chinese-related dealmaking revolves around engaging Chinese buyers interested in investing in the U.S. In 2016, Chinese investors acquired $45 billion worth of U.S. assets and another $40 billion in European assets, for a total of $104 billion in completed M&A transactions. That made China 2016’s second largest global investor, only behind the U.S.
Historically, Western brands have a reputation of being safe and of high quality, which puts them in demand with Chinese consumers. “Chinese companies are becoming more mature, and they are much more capable of running larger businesses. They are looking for ways to grow, and they can’t do it by just looking domestically. They want to buy U.S. brands to bring them back to China,” says Daniel Wang, a managing director who is leading Harris Williams & Co.’s efforts in Asia.
As Chinese buyers become more aggressive, however, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. (CFIUS) has blocked a growing number of acquisitions. CFIUS opposition caused digital map maker NavInfo Co. to call off its plans to buy a stake in Here Technologies, and the White House recently blocked Chinese-backed Canyon Bridge Capital Partners’ takeover of Lattice Semiconductor based on CFIUS’ recommendations.
Nevertheless, the list of recent deals completed by Chinese investors goes on and on and most observers predict that Chinese investor interest in the U.S. will continue to grow. And while most of the deals to date have taken place in the larger market, that will likely change. Globally, China’s outward foreign direct investment is expected to average between $140 billion and $275 billion annually over the next decade—which will undoubtedly impact the middle-market as dealmaking activity continues to ramp up.