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Chinese buyers descend on Lisbon

It may be a battered economy on the edge of Europe, but Portugal is rapidly becoming the hotspot for Chinese corporate ownership in Europe, particularly in the financial sector. Whether they like it or not, governments and regulators in Lisbon, Brussels and elsewhere will welcome them with open arms.

Chinese buyers descend on Lisbon

Portugal's president Anibal Cavaco Silva (L) and China's premier Li Keqiang (2nd R) attend a meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing

Chinese buyers of Western banks and corporations are arriving in Europe in force – and many are disembarking first on Portuguese shores.

If regulators approve it, Haitong Securities, China’s second biggest broker, will soon be shaking up capital markets in Lisbon and beyond with the acquisition of BESI, previously the investment-banking arm of Portugal’s biggest listed bank, Banco Espírito Santo. That €379 million deal, announced in December, is just one example.

Now at least two Chinese buyers are bidding for a far larger institution, according to local reports, as the Portuguese government sells Novo Banco, the successor to BESI’s recently defunct former parent. One of the reported Chinese bidders for Novo Banco, Fosun International, last year made what it said was the first Chinese acquisition of a foreign insurance firm, in a €1 billion privatization of Caixa Seguros, the insurance arm of Portugal’s biggest bank by assets.

The focus on Portugal comes as Chinese financial groups are instigating a wider acquisition drive in Europe, most recently in finance.

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