Corporate China

Tencent in M&A overdrive with new tie-ups

Tencent's three latest tie-ups indicate the company is abandoning its previous strategy focused on online partnerships for new tie-ups moving further afield from its core Internet competency

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 28 August, 2014, 11:20am
UPDATED : Thursday, 28 August, 2014, 11:20am

I've become a big fan lately of top Internet company Tencent (0700.HK), which has taken a more focused, measured approach to M&A in a recent string of major acquisitions and tie-ups by China's top three web firms. But the company seems to be rapidly moving into M&A overdrive, following word of three major new deals this week alone, none of which looks too exciting or focused. Whereas nearly all of Tencent's tie-ups to date have been with other online firms, the trio of rumored new deals all involve major players from traditional industries that have little or no experience on the Internet. 

Those three partners in those deals are real estate giant Wanda Group, leading independent filmmaker Huayi Bros (Shenzhen: 300027), and stodgy state-run oil refining giant Sinopec (0386.HK). To its credit, at least Tencent is targeting relatively innovative industry leaders in each of these partnerships. But the fact that it's now straying so far beyond its core Internet competency also looks a bit worrisome, as it resembles a similarly scattered approach being practiced by its top two online rivals, Alibaba and Baidu (Nasdaq: BIDU).

Let's start with the Wanda tie-up, as that's the one that seems to be grabbing the most headlines. That's not too surprising, as Wanda is one of China's most innovative real estate developers, building a highly successful national chain of shopping malls and movie theaters. Its founder, Wang Jianlin, is also one of China's richest men and a highly respected figure for his business acumen.

According to the reports, Tencent will form an e-commerce joint venture with Wanda and Baidu with total investment of up to five billion yuan (HK$6.29 billion). Wanda would hold a controlling 70 per cent of the venture, while Tencent and Baidu would hold the remaining 30 per cent, translating to investments of about US$120 million each for the two Internet companies.

There's no word on what exactly the new e-commerce joint venture would sell, but perhaps it would focus on products from some of Wanda's larger retail partners, and also on its movie theaters. Perhaps there's also a real estate angle, which would follow another deal earlier this week that saw Alibaba team up with leading residential property builder Vanke (2202.HK; Shenzhen: 000002) to sell property at a discount online.  

It's clear that Wanda is the driving force behind this initiative, and Tencent and Baidu simply want to sign on as strategic partners. Still, I question the wisdom of this deal for Tencent. Perhaps most importantly, this tie-up could create waves for Tencent's other major e-commerce partnership with (Nasdaq: JD), which looks far more promising and should be the sole focus of Tencent's e-commerce efforts right now.

Next let's look quickly at the second major deal, which would see Tencent pair with Huayi Bros to build an online community for movie stars and their fans. This initiative has apparently been in the works for much of the last year, though an agreement has only just been reached. No financial terms were given, though I expect the investment from both sides is modest.

This tie-up looks like a relatively safe bet, as it's largely confined to the online realm that's quite familiar to Tencent and where it has rich experience at building this type of community. Still, the partnership with Huayi looks just slightly worrisome, as it hints that Tencent may be eying the difficult and unfamiliar film-making business that has recently attracted big investment dollars from Alibaba and Baidu.

Apart from those two deals, there's also the Sinopec tie-up, which I've written about previously. Tencent and Sinopec announced a new partnership this week that would focus on development of online-to-offline products, such as mapping services and electronic payments. Tencent is also reportedly one of the bidders as Sinopec seeks to sell up to 30 per cent of its retail unit, which includes a nationwide chain of 30,000 gas stations and 23,000 convenience stores.

None of these three new tie-ups looks especially alarming by itself, though each would take Tencent into unfamiliar territory. What's more worrisome is the collective trend, that appears to show that Tencent is abandoning its previous policy of focused, web-based tie-ups and adopting a more problematic, anything-goes expansion strategy followed by its major rivals.

Bottom line: Tencent's three latest tie-ups indicate the company is abandoning its previous strategy focused on online partnerships for new tie-ups moving further afield from its core Internet competency.

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