DealZone

Deals wrap: Capital One beefs up credit card portfolio

HSBC is nearing a deal to sell its $30 billion-plus U.S. credit card business to Capital One, sources familiar with the situation said.

Investors who bet big money on the outcome of merger and acquisition deals are scurrying as a plunging stock market jeopardizes many transactions.

Even hedge fund superstars who outsmarted the housing collapse and battered financial sector might soon be telling their investors that they suffered double-digit losses during the last few days, managers and investors forecast.

“Nestle, the Swiss company said to be preparing a bid for Pfizer’s baby-food unit, may aim to regain momentum in China’s infant formula market by acquiring the maker of SMA Gold,” reports Bloomberg.

Deals wrap: Shell games

A new Reuters investigative report takes a deeper look at a niche industry of advisers who specialize in so-called “reverse merger” deals that use shell companies to give clients easy entry into U.S. capital markets. As correspondents Nanette Byrnes and Lynnley Browning report, more than 400 Chinese companies have been listed in the U.S. over the course of the last decade by way of this back-door method. But, as their investigation shows, a recent “spate of spectacular collapses of Chinese stocks listed on American exchanges has cost U.S. investors billions of dollars” and sparked multiple investigations into the practice.

Job cuts are on the way at HSBC. Europe’s biggest bank announced plans to axe 30,000 positions between now and the end of 2013 as it retreats from countries around the globe where it is struggling to compete. The first 5,000 cuts came as part of the company’s restructuring efforts across Latin America, the U.S., Britain, France and the Middle East. The bank, which posted a surprise rise in first-half profit on Monday, is reversing a strategy that had been criticized for “planting flags” around the world. CEO Stuart Gulliver’s far-reaching plan unveiled three months ago aims to slash costs and he intends to sell, shut or slim down retail banking in 39 countries. HSBC said on Sunday it would sell 195 U.S. branches to First Niagara Financial for about $1 billion in cash, and close another 13 of the 470 sites it had.

Peabody Energy and ArcelorMittal launched a hostile $5.2 billion bid for Macarthur Coal after the Australian target’s board said the approach undervalued the company and it was working on attracting a rival offer. Peabody, the largest U.S. coal company, and ArcelorMittal, the world’s top steelmaker, have been courting Macarthur to secure its resources of pulverized coal, a key steelmaking ingredient, but talks to get the backing of Macarthur’s board collapsed over the weekend.

DealZone Daily

Prudential shares rise — modestly — after UK newspaper reports that its largest shareholder — Capital Group – is working on a plan to split the group up. The U.S. investor is not happy with Pru’s planned $35.5 billion acquisition of AIA, the Asian life insurer. It is working with Clive Cowdery’s acquisition vehicle Resolution, insurer Aviva and a third, unknown group, the reports say. An unlikely scenario? Perhaps, but it does show some serious discontent among shareholders.

HSBC has denied talk in the market that it may renew its bid for a $3.9 billion stake in Korea Exchange Bank. When asked whether the bank was bidding for LoneStar’s KEB, the bank’s Chief Executive Michael Geoghegan said: “No, we are not”. Right, that’s settled then.

Deutsche lends credibility to its ambitious targets with quarterly earnings that beat forecasts. The earnings benefit from strong results in debt trading — and the absence of markdowns in areas such as leveraged loans. More on investment banking later, when Goldman Sachs appears before the U.S. Senate.

DealZone Daily

British publisher Informa is in talks to buy its German rival Springer Science and Business Media from private equity firms Candover and Cinven, the FT says.

Informa initiated talks with Springer three weeks ago and is considering an all cash bid, according to its story, but private equity firms including Apax and EQT are still looking at the business.

For the latest deals news from Reuters, click here.

And here are the top stories from the newspapers (some external links may require subscription):

HSBC’s Asia opportunism

HSBC CEO Michael Geoghegan isn’t just furniture shopping for the big move back to Hong Kong.

The Wall Street Journal reports HSBC is in “advanced discussions” to acquire Royal Bank of Scotland’s banking assets in three Asian countries. The talks concern RBS’s retail and commercial banking assets in China, India and Malaysia, according to the report, which cited a person familiar with the situation.

In late September, HSBC decided to return its CEO to the place of the bank’s birth 144 years ago, as it refocuses on Asia. Europe’s biggest bank said it would stay based in London for tax purposes and had no plans to move, and Britain’s Financial Services Authority will remain its lead regulator. After the drama of Britain’s 1997 retreat from its lucrative colony, there are clearly still limits on just how Asian HSBC wants to be.

Deals du Jour

Julius Baer will buy ING‘s private bank in Switzerland, the two have said (Reuters has long been reporting that Baer was the frontrunner to seal the deal).

The battle for Dutch retailer Super de Boer heats up, with Ahold now showing interest to buy 30 to 50 of its supermarkets. For these and other stories about deals, click here.

And two deal stories in other media:

Citigroup is working on a sale of its commodities unit Phibro in a move that could raise hundreds of millions of dollars, according to the Financial Times.

Asia’s allure

HSBC, perhaps the most Chinese of the big European banks, says it is in talks to set up an investment banking joint venture in China. Australia and New Zealand Bank and Asia-focused Standard Chartered have lined up opportunistic buys in Asia, picking up the pieces of imploded RBS. Even beaten-down Citigroup is talking about acquisitions … in Indonesia.

ANZ said it agreed to pay a smaller-than-expected $550 million to buy some Asian units from RBS. StanChart, just nine months after launching a 1.8 billion pound rights issue, unveiled a surprise 1 billion pound ($1.7 billion) share placement to give it firepower to grasp opportunities as Asia’s economies recover. The bank said it was in talks about small acquisitions in China and India likely to cost between $100 million and $200 million. We’re told those talks involve RBS assets.

HSBC’s move would allow it to expand into China’s domestic securities and debt markets, areas it is presumably well-placed to exploit, given its dominant role in Hong Kong finance. Asia chief Vincent Cheng said HSBC Hong Kong has enough capital for acquisitions, has looked into some RBS Asian assets but has found, in general, that Asian assets are too expensive. So it will focus on organic growth.

Will UnTARPed Banks Boost M&A?

News that top investment banks want to pay back their TARP funds is welcome news for the M&A market. Though the tens of billions of dollars in capital that will slosh out of the banks and into government coffers may sap the banks of the funds to make big buys, the fact that most post-stress-test capital-raisings have gone smoothly must be encouraging for dealmakers.

Plus, banks that are unable to pull themselves from the government teat will have a whole lot less pricing power. It was interesting to see HSBC commenting on Tuesday that it expects industry consolidation in the second half of this year and in 2010. Though they may be looking more closely at non-U.S. assets, given the burns on their fingers from their foray into the U.S. mortgage market, that big global may sit out the next round of mergers. Will they be missing the boat, particularly given the conviction of many analysts that the U.S. economy will be the earliest to recover?

A key question that could rain on any M&A party is asset quality, and the radiation emitting from the toxic assets still poisoning the financial system. While most of it has been moved to the bomb shelter balance sheet of the U.S. taxpayer, there is little conviction that valuations will have the golden glow of yesteryear, and plenty of lingering fear that the glow is the toxicity of the lost decade.

Universal Banking questioned

CITIGROUP/(From Acquisitions Monthly)

The coming financial services new world order could unleash a wave of mergers and acquisitions as providers look to thrive under a regime of tighter regulation and diminished risk appetite. As such, the IBM Institute for Business Value calls into question some of the ideological shibboleths still held by many senior banking executives.

Whilst banks such as Citigroup, UBS and the UK’s Barclays cling to the notion of universal banking – effectively one stop shops – research by IBM argues that this particular model may not be fit for purpose anymore. The days of soaring profits from what it calls “pockets of opacity” such as over the counter derivatives are over.

“Some of the largest institutions may be required to downsize or dispose of business lines,” says IBM.  It predicts that outperformers will become much more specialist and aligned with their customers’ needs. Many universal banks were found to be more self-serving in outlook. “On average the specialists have seen their revenues grow 30 percent more than the universal banks and enjoy operating margins of 25 percent compared with the 16 percent universal banks command,” says the IBM Institute.

Goldman: short East, long West?

FINANCIAL/GOLDMANSACHSFew can claim to have ever gotten very rich betting against Goldman Sachs. The bank is reported to be cutting its stake in Industrial and Commercial Bank of China and perhaps buying into exchange-traded funds provider iShares.

The Wall Street Journal reports Goldman and ICBC have been talking. Goldman’s 4.9 percent stake in ICBC is worth about $8.5 billion. The timing of a sale seems right, as a lock-up period tying Goldman’s hands ends late next month. The Journal reported Goldman could raise more than $1 billion by selling 15-20 percent of its holding.

Over the last few months, others have also beaten a retreat from China and other points East as risk aversion has grown to dizzying heights. But other financial heavyweights, notably Citigroup, had to repair tattered balance sheets, while Goldman appears to be acting from a position of relative strength. The New York Times reports Goldman plans to pay back the $10 billion it borrowed from U.S. taxpayers last fall — perhaps within the next month.