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Banking

Chinese M&A: Under orders to buy abroad

China’s mergers and acquisitions market is gathering steam after a couple of relatively quiet years. Elliot Wilson reports.

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SINCE THE START of the year, the message has been filtering down to the heads of China’s leading state-owned enterprises from their political masters inside the State Council. Quietly at first, then with greater urgency, Beijing has been cajoling its leading corporate representatives to venture abroad in search of foreign markets, resources, brands and distribution channels.

If those often powerful but nonetheless timid SOE heads were at all unsure about their top priority, China’s central bank chief rammed home the point on September 9. Talking at a trade forum in the coastal city of Xiamen, Zhou Xiaochuan told the country’s leading commercial banks to get busy buying. "Financial institutions are playing an important role in supporting overseas investments but it is still not enough," he said, adding that the balance between inbound and outbound capital was "uneven" – to China’s disadvantage.

Clear as a bell

Experienced M&A bankers say that the message is loud and clear. "Before, these signals have been patchy, but this one is as clear as a bell," says a senior Hong Kong-based investment banker. "It’s coming right from the very top this time – that for policy reasons, Chinese [corporations] have to get more active."

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