Volvo purchase: an exceptional Chinese deal?

Zhejiang Geely Holding Group’s acquisition of Volvo from Ford for US$1.8bn means a Chinese carmaker has finally succeeded in reaching agreement to buy a Western marque. Ford originally put the Swedish brand up for sale nearly three years ago, as GM looked for a buyer for its notoriously gas-hungry Hummer.

Sichuan Tengzhong Heavy Industrial Machinery, advised by Credit Suisse, agreed to buy Hummer last June but that deal was later shelved. Similarly Beijing Automotive Industry Holding Co pulled out of a possible purchase of GM’s Swedish asset Saab. That deal had been fronted by smaller Swedish luxury carmaker Koenigsegg.

At the time, advisers murmured that these deals had been killed by the Chinese authorities baulking at allowing smaller vehicle makers in the unconsolidated Chinese market buying tired Western consumer brands. These would have needed significant investment to be restructured.

Geely, which is backed by a Goldman Sachs private equity fund, is in a different league. Its move, principally funded by US$1.6bn cash, looks credible and Volvo is in better shape and might need less effort to turnaround, fuelled by rampant Chinese demand, than other autos on the block. One estimate says China’s will post 12% annualised GDP growth this quarter.

That said, the Chinese state itself, although backing private company Geely’s deal, still seems more focused on easier asset deals. On the same day state oil company Sinopec has splashed out US$2.5bn on African assets, this time offshore from Angola. Ironically these were owned by Petrochina.

DealZone Daily

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown plans to outline a sale of government assets on Monday aimed at raising 3 billion pounds, according to a draft speech provided by his office. The sale will be carried out over the next two years and include betting company Tote and the cross-channel rail link between the UK and France.

In other stories reported by the media on Monday and over the weekend:

British bank Lloyds has lined up a syndicate of investment banks to underwrite a 11 billion pound rights issue, the Sunday Times reports, without citing sources. The deal would be linked to Lloyds’ attempts to reduce its participation in the UK government’s toxic asset scheme.

Barclays is planning to spin off a 4 billion pound portfolio of complex credit assets as its presses ahead with a process to clean up its balance sheet, the Financial Times says, quoting people familiar with the matter.

China’s Iron Ire

Chinese demand for industrial commodities has long been the defining variable in establishing global market prices for everything from alumina to zinc. The modern engine of global manufacturing has made great strides toward embracing freer markets, but its deep roots in its command economy have clouded global markets’ ability to gauge demand. If Chinese allegations are true that Rio Tinto spied and adopted such unsavory tactics as bribery to gather market intelligence, the actions of the western company could be considered an attempt to attune its business practices to the local climate.

Share of Rio Tinto were sagging on Monday after China stepped up its spying allegations. China’s state secrets agency said on its website over the weekend that Rio Tinto had spied on Chinese steel mills for six years, resulting in the mills overpaying $102 billion for iron ore, Rio Tinto’s biggest earner. Australia’s Foreign Ministry says there’s nothing new in the latest allegations. Rio declined to comment on the accusations, which followed China’s detention a month ago of four Rio employees in Shanghai, including Australian Stern Hu, on suspicion of stealing state secrets.

When considering China’s motivation in this political drama, the brutal realities of the marketplace are also a key consideration. “Most observers see a link between the detentions and Chinalco’s failed attempt to up its Rio stake,”  according to Reuters columnist John Kemp. “While a direct link is hard to prove, there is no doubt the allegations have been prompted by high-level frustration at the way the annual ore negotiations have been conducted.”

Chinalco, Vale hawks circle as Xstrata’s canary swoons

With Anglo having spurned a premium-less bid from Xstrata, the chances of the proposed “mergers of equals” getting done is dimming. The spurned suitor said it was disappointed, but that’s about all it said, so while the possibility of a hostile approach cannot be ruled out, analysts say such a costly alternative is highly unlikely.

Analysts had been reasonably upbeat on Xstrata’s proposal, talking up the merits of a tie-up even as the steel industry shuddered and the government of South Africa, where Anglo has the bulk of its operations, squawked.

But just as investors were dumping their Anglo shares, talk emerged of the possibility of interest from two emerging market heavyweights: China’s Chinalco and Brazil’s Vale. Anglo’s stock quickly steadied.

Xstrata’s clash of Anglo American culture

Just when you thought M&A was dead, along comes the $68bn “merger of equals” proposal between Anglo-Swiss mining giant Xstrata and rival Anglo American.

Xstrata confirmed over the weekend that its chief executive Mick Davis recently wrote to Anglo American’s outgoing chairman Sir Mark Moody-Stuart about doing a deal. On the back of that, Anglo’s shares surged as much as 12.4 percent before falling back during Monday’s trading.  Spurred on by uncertainty in the global economy, a need for substantial cost-savings, the recent merger of Rio Tinto’s iron ore business with that of BHP Billiton’s – and a belief that Xstrata must double its size to catch its closest competitor, Rio Tinto – and you have the rationale behind Davis’s thinking.

“The combination would create a premier portfolio of operations diversified across multiple commodities and geographies, with enhanced scale and financial flexibility to fund future growth,” Xstrata said in a statement. According to Citi analysts, the deal “makes financial and strategic sense, and could create synergies of up to $750m.  The combined entity would be a global leader in base metals, platinum, ferrochrome and coal”.

Iron ore: Australians 1 Chinese 0

(From Acquisitions Monthly)

Rio Tinto’s agreement to scrap its refinancing deal with Chinese shareholder Chinalco, join its iron interests in Australia with arch rival BHP Billiton and raise $15 billion from investors is a remarkable coup, solving many of the miner’s problems.

Most importantly it allows the company to halve its $40 billion debts, which doubled to that level when chief executive Tom Albanese bought Canadian aluminum company Alcan for cash at the top of the commodity cycle in mid-2007.

After the cycle turned, and prices fell, exacerbated by the global economic downturn, Rio and Albanese’s position looked vulnerable. BHP had earlier tried to exploit this, proposing a mega 3.4-for-1 all share offer.

Deals du Jour

China’s Sichuan Tengzhon Heavy Industrial Machinery Co became the surprise buyer for General Motor’s Hummer brand while insurer AIG — another U.S. giant in trouble — cut the asking price for its Taiwan insurance unit. For the day’s top headlines, click here.

And here is what we found of interest in the newspapers.

Global miner Rio Tinto may cut the size of its planned $7.2 billion issue of convertible bonds to China’s Chinalco and raise more equity via a rights issue, the Australian Financial Review reported.

Banks in Qatar, the world’s top exporter of liquefied natural gas, will get cash and bonds in exchange for selling their real estate investments to the government under a $4 billion programme unveiled last week, the daily Gulf Times cited sources as saying.

Friend ore foe

RIOTINTO/This one was coming forever. China’s ambition to claim a place on the global financial stage commensurate with its swelling population and heaving ownership of U.S. debt was as inevitable as the end of the cheap-credit boom years. More importantly, the nearly $20 billion investment by Chinalco, China’s top state-owned aluminum producer, in miner Rio Tinto serves the country’s domestic needs, guaranteeing supplies of raw materials to the struggling Chinese factories that sell around the world.

As Lucy Hornsby writes, roadwork for the long march of Chinese industry abroad is being done by its banks, which analysts tell her are “most likely to buy minority stakes in foreign counterparts … as Western peers bleed red from the global financial crisis.” She cites Industrial and Commercial Bank of China’s 2007 acquisition of a stake in South Africa’s Standard Bank, with its clear implications for funding China’s interest in the resource sector.

Chinalco’s chief says he has no plans to raise his stake in Rio. Right now, the investment is in convertible bonds, so taking more control is a matter of financial maneuvering. And there really is no need. China’s emergence in global business is still a story of raising its game, learning the rules and gaining the skills to make successful businesses.

Only Cheerleaders Need Apply

A member of professional cheerleading squad practises for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games and Paralympic Games in Dachang CountyThe yo-yo that is Lehman Brothers’ stock took another spill before the market opened on Monday, after a top South Korean regulator threw cold water on the idea of a state bank buying the battle-scarred Wall Street warrior. Financial Services Commission Chairman Jun Kwang-woo told reporters Korea Development Bank (KDB) should be a “cheerleader” and let local private banks take the lead in any such purchase. KDB’s interest lit a rocket under Lehman’s shares on Friday. When asked about the status of KDB’s possible interest in Lehman Jun said: “That would be an international marriage. Would you get married just after one or two blind dates?” A couple of blind dates might be a step up from the shot-gun buyouts that South Korea’s banks faced after the Asia crisis.

Canada’s Precision Drilling Trust will buy U.S. driller Grey Wolf for $2 billion in cash and stock, creating one of the largest North American oil and gas rig operators. The announcement comes a month after Grey Wolf shareholders voted down a proposed purchase of well-servicing company Basic Energy Services. Precision Drilling, Canada’s largest oil and gas driller, first made an unsolicited purchase offer for Grey Wolf in June. News that a deal had been struck emerged on Sunday. Based on financial results through June, the combined companies will have annual revenue of $1.8 billion.

Germany’s Commerzbank could buy insurer Allianz‘s Dresdner Bank possibly by the end of this month, according to a source familiar with the situation at the bank. German weekly Welt am Sonntag said an agreement between the two was possible within the coming week. The two companies had agreed on the basic principles of the transaction, according to the paper, which said Commerzbank would buy Dresdner for slightly more than 9 billion euros ($13.38 billion) and Allianz would vouch for writedowns on the balance sheet of Dresdner of up to 1 billion euros. The sums were still being negotiated. Allianz would have a stake of slightly less than 30 percent in the merged bank, the report also said.

The Big Sale at Ford

Logos of the carmakers Jaguar and Land Rover are pictured during the first media day of the 78th Geneva Car Show at the Palexpo in Geneva

 Ford‘s soon-to-be-signed sale of Jaguar and Land Rover to Tata Motors could bring in as much as $2.65 billion, according to local TV, or $2 billion according to the FT. Though the stage appears to be set, a Tata Group spokesman told Reuters discussions were ongoing. Tata Motors, India’s top vehicle maker maker of trucks and busses, received union backing for the deal and was named the front-runner in January by Ford, which is seeking to shore up its balance sheet and reduce debt.

JPMorgan‘s revised takeover offer for Bear Stearns is a “high risk transaction,” Punk Ziegel analyst Richard Bove said after JPMorgan boosted its all-stock offer five-fold to about $10 a share. “What is most disturbing about this deal is that it uses a great deal of Morgan capital to buy a company that is losing market share, in a series of businesses that are declining in size, with a top management team that is best described as sclerotic,” the veteran bank watcher wrote in a note to clients. “Investors believe that JPMorgan is underbidding for Bear Stearns… I do not. … Bear Stearns is a deeply troubled company which would have no value if the Federal Reserve had not stepped in to bail it out.”

China’s state-owned aluminum giant Chinalco - which teamed up last month with Alcoa to buy a $14 billion stake in Rio Tinto - may spend more than $4 billion this year on acquisitions at home and abroad, according to the South China Morning Post. That’s no great pile of investment. BHP has bid $147 billion for Rio. Though the company did not specify targets, it said non-ferrous metals would be the main focus.