Coke, eBay activity in Asia

April 23, 2009

CHINA-ECONOMY/PROPERTYIs it a sign of recovery that cross-Pacific deals are making a comeback? Certainly the mighty dollar makes overseas assets cheap, and foreign governments are probably more willing to create less friction on inflows with investment markets quiet.

In a deal that only a month ago was dead in the water, with a big protectionist steak through the heart, Coca-Cola’s bid to get into the Chinese market appears to be coming back to life. The company is now reported to be holding informal talks with China Huiyuan Juice to weigh partnership options after the $2.4 billion deal — the largest-ever buyout of a Chinese company by a foreign rival – was scuppered.

In South Korea, antitrust officials have cleared the way for eBay to buy Gmarket, its key competitor in the country. The deal, worth up to $1.2 billion, is seen a key driver of growth in the region for eBay. Nasdaq-listed Gmarket is the biggest South Korean operator of customer-to-customer marketplaces and has more than 10 million registered users in the country. When combined, Gmarket and eBay’s South Korean unit will have an 87.5 percent share of the South Korean customer-to-customer market and 36.4 percent of the entire domestic online shopping market.

Both the Chinese and South Korean officials are, or appear to be requiring measures to protect fair trade. The Chinese deal may end up being for a minority stake and the South Koreans are requiring specific steps from eBay to protect smaller players. It’s hard to fathom why Coke would be interested in a minority stake now, after having been dissed a month ago. If anything cash-rich Coke could be considered to be in less dire economic straits than China. But the great pendulum that characterizes cross-border deal activity in the region may to be swinging back towards the foreign buyers.

Deals of the Day:

* Japanese brewer Kirin is seeking to buy out Australia’s No.2 brewer, Lion Nathan, in a deal shareholders said could be worth at least A$3.3 billion ($2.3 billion).

* A U.S. bankruptcy judge allowed U.S. copper miner Asarco LLC to proceed with a plan to sell itself to India’s Sterlite Industries for $1.7 billion, and for Sterlite to protect its bid from competing offers.]

* DONG Energy said its investment in a gas-fired power station project in the Netherlands would amount to around 2.5 billion Danish crowns ($437 million) including the acquisition of a 50 percent stake.

* Australia approved a revised $850 million Chinese bid for mines owned by OZ Minerals but demanded state-owned firm Minmetals try to keep loss-making operations open to save local jobs amid recession.

(PHOTO: A man walks on an overpass on Jianguo Road  near office buildings in Beijing’s central business district January 6, 2009. REUTERS/Jason Lee)

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