Chinese firms going global with vengence

Associated Press

Shanghai, June 22:

China is moving into the merger and acquisitions major leagues, as its star corporations shop for American household names like Maytag, IBM and Unocal, hoping that global ambitions will mean bigger profits.

Chinese appliance maker Haier Group would not immediately comment on Wednesday on its plans after white goods competitor Maytag Corp. said it was reviewing a $1.28 billion (euro1 billion) buyout offer from Haier and two private equity firms, Bain Capital and Blackstone Group.

Meanwhile, state media reports quoted unnamed officials at China’s offshore gas and petroleum company, CNOOC, as saying that the company’s board would meet this week and decide on whether to go ahead with a $20 billion bid for Unocal Corp, the ninth biggest US oil and gas company.

The CNOOC purchase, if it went through, would be China’s largest overseas acquisition ever.

Whether or not the two big deals succeed, following on Chinese computer

maker Lenovo Group Ltd.’s takeover of IBM’s personal computer business, they reflect China’s growing appetite for big name Western corporate icons.

“I’d expect at least a half a dozen similar deals by the end of the year,” said Jack J T Huang, chairman of international law firm Jones Day’s Greater China practice.

Cash-rich companies like CNOOC, buoyed by fat profits from higher oil prices, are keen to secure oil and gas reserves to help fuel China’s economic boom. El Segundo, California-based Unocal has international oil and gas operations, mainly in Asia.

The Chinese are newcomers to the international mergers and acquisitions scene, and initially most of their purchases were focused on energy and minerals. But consumer product companies recently have joined the fray, hoping to tap into overseas distribution networks and claim well known brand names as their own.

Haier, which is based in the eastern Chinese city of Qingdao, was one of the first Chinese companies to expand internationally, setting up factories in Algeria, Mexico, Iran and Southeast Asia before it started up its first US factory, in Camden, South Carolina, in 2000. But the company’s inexpensive refrigerators and washing machines have generally been sold only by discount chains like Wal-Mart.

Taking over Maytag would net it a household brand name and a nationwide distribution network that could vastly expand its sales.

Maytag agreed a month ago to be acquired by Ripplewood Holdings, a New York investment firm. But in a statement late Monday, Maytag said it was considering a preliminary bid

from Bain Capital, Blackstone Group and Haier America of $16 (euro13) per share, $2 (euro1.75) more per share than the offer from Ripplewood.

High-profile takeovers can run into myriad problems, as Lenovo found with its $1.75 billion purchase of IBM’s PC business. In that case, the deal was only completed after a US government panel concluded that the merger would not pose a national security threat.

Already, the possible takeover of Unocal by a Chinese state-controlled company has raised political hackles, with some members of the US Congress reportedly lobbying President George W. Bush to review the deal if it occurs.