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December 29, 2016

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Japan’s role in acquisitions to grow

JAPAN may become a more important force in dealmaking next year, as its cashed-up companies seek to buy growth prospects elsewhere in the world and as China beefs up scrutiny of foreign acquisitions to avoid unnecessary capital outflows, bankers and lawyers said.

Facing tepid prospects at home after decades of stagnation amid a shrinking population, Japanese companies had spent US$93 billion overseas this year, up to December 19, little changed from a record US$96 billion in all of 2015, but up from just US$51 billion in 2013, Thomson Reuters data showed. Chinese companies have spent US$217 billion so far in 2016.

With Japanese firms hoarding a record US$3.2 trillion in cash, according to government data, outbound acquisitions are expected to maintain a fast pace next year, banking and law firm sources said.

And while the recent weakening of the yen against the US dollar will make American acquisitions more costly in yen terms, it does mean that Japanese firms will tend to be earning more of the Japanese currency from overseas assets.

Among recent deals, Asahi Group Holdings this month beat rivals, including China Resources, to buy Anheuser-Busch InBev’s eastern European beer brands for 7.3 billion euros (US$7.6 billion).

China’s State Administration of Foreign Exchange is vetting transfers abroad worth US$5 million or more, and in particular is increasing scrutiny of major outbound deals to monitor capital outflows that are hurting the value of the yuan, sources have said.

“Japanese buyers have a low cost of capital, strong cash balances and a strong appetite to diversify out of their home market,” said Mayooran Elalingam, Deutsche Bank’s head of Asia-Pacific M&A in Hong Kong.

Japan’s cashed-up insurers are likely to step up their aggressive hunt for overseas businesses, the bankers said. For example, Meiji Yasuda, Japan’s third-largest private-sector insurer by assets, is attracted to Australia and New Zealand Banking Group’s life insurance and wealth businesses, said a source close to the unlisted Tokyo-based company.

Japanese beverage makers could buy abroad, an M&A banker at a European investment bank said, citing Suntory Holdings Ltd and Kirin Group Holdings Ltd.

Kirin and Asahi Group Holdings are among investors who have expressed an interest in buying stakes in Saigon Beer Alcohol Beverage Corp, or Sabeco, Vietnam’s biggest brewer, and its smaller rival Habeco.

Kirin declined to comment. Suntory said it was not considering any specific deals and was instead focused on integrating its 2014 purchase of Beam, the maker of Jim Beam bourbon whiskey among other alcoholic drinks.

An Asahi spokesman said it was “looking with interest” at Sabeco and Habeco.

The Japan-China rivalry may also play out in the natural resources sector next year, said Alexis Papasolomontos, an M&A partner at law firm Herbert Smith Freehills. The sector is traditionally favored by China but of growing interest to Japan.

Japanese buyers spent US$9 billion in the energy and materials sectors this year, up from US$5 billion last year, Thomson Reuters data showed. China splurged a record US$87 billion in that sector this year versus US$16 billion last year.

Still, Japan’s record with overseas acquisitions has been spotty. Toshiba Corp said on Tuesday it was considering booking a goodwill impairment loss of several hundreds of billion yen on a US nuclear power acquisition made by its Westinghouse division, sending its stock plunging.

Japan’s Nomura Holdings Inc, which acquired Lehman Brothers’ Asian and European operations following the collapse of the US investment bank, announced a painful restructuring earlier this year after losing some US$3 billion overseas in six years.

Century Tokyo Leasing was among the companies that lost out to a unit of China’s HNA Group in a battle to buy a CIT plane leasing unit, according to people familiar with the matter.

In manufacturing, the sale of General Electric Co’s appliance unit generated interest from Japanese buyers but they didn’t compete seriously against a subsidiary of Qingdao Haier, which won the auction, one of the people said.

“We expect to continue to see a lot of activities in every sector,” said Yoshihiko Yano, head of Japan M&A at Goldman Sachs. “Given the decreasing population and aging society, outbound M&A for growth outside Japan is inevitable for Japanese companies.”

Japanese companies have been drawn to the US market because its economic growth has been generally higher than Japan’s, and as the American population rises. US President-elect Donald Trump’s pledges to cut business taxes, spend on infrastructure and slash business rules mean the appeal of the US market is likely to increase.

“America’s appeal won’t change for Japanese firms,” said Shinsuke Tsunoda, global head of M&A at Nomura Securities Co.


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