Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit with American counterpart Donald Trump at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida ended a turbulent week, with trade slated for the top of their agenda. Trump has made his feelings about trade policy known, if not clear, through stump speeches on the campaign trail and during his time in the Oval Office, frequently deploying Twitter to throw shade at China.
The meeting next week with China will be a very difficult one in that we can no longer have massive trade deficits...
Perhaps no deal has illustrated how outsized hostility can complicate the picture of Chinese corporate M&A in the US better than the one announced last month between Jack Ma's Ant Financial and MoneyGram (NASDAQ: MGI). In response to US rival Euronet’s competing offer—and, no doubt, the strongly worded letter its CEO sent to US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin about the national security risks posed by Chinese ownership of the target—Ant Financial's president, Doug Feagin, issued an open letter Thursday outlining a “shared vision of global financial inclusion” represented by the deal, highlighting how much it values MoneyGram's customers, agents and partners.
But these highly publicized spats exaggerate just how much Chinese corporate M&A activity goes on in the US:
Since 2010, Chinese corporate acquirers have completed 166 deals for US targets, according to the PitchBook Platform, a little better than half of which closed within the two-year window of 2015 and 2016. The annual average for the period amounts to about 22 completed deals. That stands in stark contrast to Canada and Europe.
Although corporate M&A activity among Chinese and American companies only paints part of the larger picture of the financial ties that bind the world’s largest economies, this corner of that picture shows China’s acquisitive appetite for US targets to be modest at most.
B2B and B2C targets have proven the most appetizing to Chinese corporate acquirers, accounting for some 51% of all deals for US companies. In areas like energy or materials and resources, Chinese corporate acquirers appear content to secure access to these industries through trade without needing to buy US suppliers outright.
That said, officials from the US and Japan are reportedly in talks to prevent the bankruptcy of Toshiba's US unit Westinghouse Electric potentially resulting in China's acquisition of nuclear energy tech and infrastructure assets, according to Reuters. Although Japan trade minister Hiroshige Seko has denied that such negotiations are taking place, the sensitivity to what and how China acquires foreign assets looks set to remain pronounced for quite awhile even as it caps and scales back capital outflows through cross-border M&A.