Monday, November 09, 2009

"De-Globalization" vs. "The Wal-Mart Effect" in India and Beyond

A few weeks ago, Jim Valderrama from Grant Thornton and I presented at an international roundtable event at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business - our theme was whether we have been seeing a "de-globalization" of US mid-market companies that will extend beyond the recession. (Thus, the tie-in to the photo caption - "Robinson (American) falling into sea near Nice")

We looked at data on US direct foreign investment and cross-border acquisitions into many parts of the world, and there has clearly been a major drop in activity over the past 18 months. Yet, more of a drop in cross-border activity than in overall economic activity? Hard to tell, though I referred to evidence from some of our own clients and contacts that there has been a scaling back in ambitions among mid-market companies. For example, many have found that China has been more expensive and a greater drain on senior management than expected, and mid-market companies do not have the same level of resources to handle such far-flung expansion as do larger companies.

Surely much of the cross-border expansion among mid-market companies and otherwise will be returning in strength as the US economy thaws. Many of course are more motivated than ever to take advantage of higher growth rates in BRIC economies and elsewhere and the "portfolio effect" of multiple bets in multiple countries.

Wal-Mart is one of the many examples of companies placing great faith in international expansion, as is evidenced by recent moves in India. We have reported in the past on Wal-Mart's tie-up with Bharti in India to establish retail stores, though foreign retailers remain restricted in India from owning equity in "multi-brand" retailing (I was formerly the legal head of Kmart's international expansion in China and many other countries, and our blog entries have noted that market openings for retailing often lag behind other sectors - India's economy is otherwise quite open for most sectors).

As reported in the November 6th issue of the Economic Times of India, Wal-Mart's chairman recently met with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi to lobby for more access to the Indian market, the company's CFO recently noted that Wal-Mart is stepping up growth in its international operations to take advantage of growing economies and opportunities in emerging markets such as China and Brazil, and the head of its international operations referred to a US$5 billion fund set aside for its international expansion and "India can use as much as it wants."

We hope that the next tier of companies is paying attention to such aggressive faith in global markets and will not sit out the next round of revenue and profit opportunities outside of the US.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Largest Indian Outbound Deal Ever - Will it Happen?

Bharti Airtel had bid US$23 billion to take over MTN of South Africa, a major telecommunications company. If completed, the deal would become India's largest outbound deal to date, double the size of Tata Steel's $13 billion acquisition of Corus, the UK steel company, in 2006.

However, the deal talks have been extended until the end of August and there is a cloud of uncertainty over the price and terms of the deal.

The talks come at a time of a substantial decrease in India's cross border M&A activity - it was reported that as of May, India's outbound deal flow had decreased by 95 per cent as compared with the same period in 2008, falling from $7.4 billion to $370.8 million. We have been taking a periodic look at India's outbound investments and will offer an update shortly.

Photo credit to Swamysk, whose photos are posted on Flickr

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Korean M&A Deals: Shedding Core Assets + Weak Won = Value

A May 20th Financial Times Article on Korean M&A is reasonably upbeat on the potential for further Korean deals and quotes a friend, Paul Kang, an investment banker who focuses on Korean M&A deals. Among the article’s observations (click the blog title above for the article and broader Korea report) are the following:

  • Korean Companies Shed Non-Core Assets. As is true in the US and elsewhere, until a recovery gathers strength, some Korean companies are exploring the potential sale of non-core assets to further finance and strengthen their core businesses. Goldman’s head of Korean investment banking indicates that this will help drive both domestic as well as cross-border Korean deals, and the article reports that many expect Korean M&A to become more active in the second half of 2009 as the push for disposal of non-core assets gathers momentum.
  • Actual Increase in Numbers of 2009 Deals. What do the numbers show? Korean M&A deals increased from 333 in the first quarter of 2008 to 406 in the first quarter of 2009, although their combined value fell from $14.1bn to $12.4bn. Not bad in a rough environment.
  • Purchase of Prominent Korean Beer Company - An Example. As a recent cross-border deal example, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts agreed to buy Oriental Brewery from Anheuser-Busch InBev for $1.8bn. This will be the largest leveraged buy-out in Asia in the past two years. Who hasn’t enjoyed a cold “OB” during a visit to Seoul?
  • A Weak Won Enhances Value to Foreign Investors. The Korean won has fallen about 18 per cent against the dollar in the past year, making Korean assets cheaper for foreign investors, and the currency play alone is creating deal opportunities as it did during the 1997 – 1998 Asian financial crisis.
However, Paul Kang, a former Goldman banker and something of a realist, is skeptical that the outstanding Korean opportunities will generate significant foreign buying given the global uncertainties impacting potential buyers.

That may be true, and too bad for the hesitant who are still kicking themselves for missing out on Asian financial crisis opportunities.

The image is of Namdaemun gate in Seoul, Korea's National Treasure #1, photo credit to Charles Chan.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Outstanding Value for Cross-Border Strategic Investment

Companies with the wherewithal to expand through acquisition and investment stakes may be finding once-in-a-career bargains.

For example, Time Warner is purchasing a 31% stake in a Central European media company - a company whose share price was $106 last may and about $13 recently.

Time Warner deal: another strategic capitalizes on downturn

Posted on March 23, 2009 at 1:27 PM

prague.jpgCompared to the price the target's shares commanded less than a year ago, Time Warner Inc. (NYSE: TWX) is getting quite a bargain in its purchase of a 31% stake in Central European Media Enterprises Ltd. (NASDAQ: CETV). Bloomberg has the story.

As recently as May, CME's shares were around $106. Monday, even after a 31% rise driven by the deal's announcement, they were around $13. Time Warner is paying $241.5 million for the stake.

Founded in 1993 by Ronald Lauder of the cosmetics family, CME has suffered from the fact that its markets have gone from boom to an especially severe bust because of the global financial crisis.

But Time Warner obviously thinks there's long-term growth in the markets CME serves. The company has an audience of 97 million in Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Romania, Slovenia, Slovakia and Ukraine, according to Reuters.

Time Warner's move resembles deals by some other big strategic acquirers who are using the crisis to enter new markets at attractive prices. A previous example was Abbott Laboratories' (NYSE:ABT) acquisition of Advanced Medical Optics for nearly $2.8 billion in January. AMO's shares were way down because the recession has hurt its laser vision correction service.

Look for more such deals in various sectors.-Kenneth Klee

Monday, January 26, 2009

Acquiring Troubled US Companies - Limiting Legal Risk

Here is the first page of our updated article published this month in India.

Let me know if you are aware of a US company in need of an investor or that is in search of a buyer - we are being asked by our contacts in India to pass-on opportunities that may be a good fit for an Indian buyer.

The investment range can be as low as a few million dollars and into the US$20 million range - on the small side but often overlooked by intermediaries. Feel free to contact me (David Laverty) directly at 312 575 0601 or at

Foreign Corporate Buyers of Troubled US Companies

Yes, there are excellent values among US companies that make this a very attractive time for those foreign buyers with the capital to acquire and invest. Yet, can a foreign corporate buyer hope to fully understand and participate in the process of purchasing a troubled US company?

Yes, with the proper advisers. The following video interview takes this a step further - why not partner with an experienced distressed investor? Jonathan Rosenthal of Saybrook Capital LLC offers his views on such partnering opportunities - taken from this month's TMA distressed investing conference in Las Vegas.