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Mergers & Acquisitions

Chinese deals in US to keep flowing despite Donald Trump’s halting of Broadcom’s bid for Qualcomm

The US objection to Broadcom's attempted takeover of Qualcomm put a cloud over potential Chinese asset purchases in America but was not expected to be the death knell

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 March, 2018, 7:44am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 13 March, 2018, 10:40pm

US President Donald Trump's shut down of Broadcom Limited's attempted takeover of chip maker Qualcomm Inc puts a cloud over potential deals for US assets by foreign companies with Chinese connections. But it will not be their death knell.

Trump blocks Broadcom's US$117 billion takeover of Qualcomm

Even as highly publicised deals such as the bid for Qualcomm by Singapore-based Broadcom, a chip maker for Apple and Chinese electronics manufacturers, run into trouble, asset purchases by Chinese buyers are still going through – and mostly out of the public eye, Wall Street deal makers said. 

The successful acquisition of closely held US firms by private Chinese companies in quiet, largely undisclosed transactions indicates that extreme pessimism is unwarranted, according to the deal makers. 

Amid tension between the US and China in trade and competition in technology, “what is sometimes lost is that Chinese deals continue to be successfully reviewed by CFIUS,” said Chris Griner, chair of the CFIUS practice at law firm Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP. 

CFIUS, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, is the inter-agency committee under the Treasury Department that reviews deals for national security risks by a foreign acquirer aiming to take control of a US business. 

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For instance, the US committee cleared Beijing-based Naura Microelectronics Equipment Co in January to buy US semiconductor manufacturing equipment maker Akrion Systems LLC. 

Despite the deal's relatively small US$15 million price tag, Naura’s success in getting the nod from CFIUS is notable. 

The US has stepped up efforts under the Trump administration to guard against asset purchases which require the handover of crucial US technologies to China and are seen as a potential security threat. 

The American government’s increased scrutiny of foreign transactions generally has made it more difficult for Chinese companies to buy US assets, analysts have said. 

China-US trade war would be ‘catastrophic for the whole world’

The Naura-Akrion deal’s completion is seen by some as a bright spot amid the growing spectre of a trade war between the two countries following the US’s announcement of impending stiff tariffs on steel and aluminium and Trump’s accusing China of dumping cheap steel onto the global market. 

Since January, CFIUS has blocked Ant Financial's US$1.2 billion acquisition of US money transfer company MoneyGram International, and has urged AT&T Inc, the second-largest wireless carrier, to cut commercial ties with Chinese phone maker Huawei Technologies Co because of national security concerns. 

Ant Financial is affiliated with Alibaba Group Holding, which owns the South China Morning Post

Trump issued a statement this week, citing "credible evidence that leads me to believe that Broadcom ... might take action that threatens to impair the national security of the United States".

That followed an unusual public statement last week, in which the committee said it advised against the US$117 billion mega bid for Qualcomm by Singapore-based Broadcom, pointing to risks of a third-party entity's advancement in 5G technology if the deal went through.

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A move by Chinese companies to fill the void left by the proposed Qualcomm acquisition and dominate the making of 5G chips permitting faster data transmission would have significant security implications for the US, the panel found. 

Qualcomm, based in San Diego, California, is viewed as a major rival to Chinese companies vying for market share in the sector, such as Huawei, making the acquisition an important strategic move. 

Still, Griner said the Broadcom-Qualcomm deal “should not be viewed as a bellwether for future Chinese deals [in the US]”. 

“This is a unique case where a high-profile company is attempting to buy another high-profile company. It is being highly publicised. 

How bad is the tension between the world's two largest economies, really?

“Being a Singaporean company that has connections to China is just one part of the US national security consideration,” he said. 

CFIUS also would need to weigh that Qualcomm provides sensitive products to the US Defence Department, has a dominant role in US telecommunications infrastructure and performs significant research and development, Griner said. 

To be sure, deals today take longer to get done because of geopolitical complexities. 

Acquisitions in the hi-tech space remain among the most challenging and are likely to receive a tougher review than others. 

Amid the changing climate, Chinese direct investment in the US overall has taken a hit. After a record 2016, such investment dropped by more than a third in 2017 to US$29 billion, according to Rhodium Group. 

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Much of the decline was attributable to Beijing’s regulatory crackdown on outbound capital flows, the report said. But growing regulatory hurdles in the US landed a second blow. 

Also adding to the drop in successful deals is Chinese buyers' continuous lack of awareness of US national security issues and the need to tackle them upfront, deal makers pointed out. 

Despite a clampdown on highly public deals, other Chinese acquisitions are going through in sectors such as automobiles that are less closely related to national security and therefore do not require CFIUS approval. 

Deal makers on Wall Street do not expect Chinese deals to be completely cut off because the US has historically encouraged foreign acquisitions as a way to support competition, technology development and investment in critical domestic infrastructure. 

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Heightened US security protection has already drawn resistance from some big US companies, concerned that the expansion of CFIUS's role would put the business environment into jeopardy. American executives are urging Congress to soften their views of mergers and acquisitions with Chinese companies; the debate is ongoing. 

Over time, the legislation is expected to become more tempered, deal makers said, meaning the review process may become less harsh. 

“There is a general concern in the US to avoid unduly impeding foreign investment in the US,” Stroock's Griner said.