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Why Ant’s CFIUS rejection heralds a tough time for China M&A

Big data concerns and growing protectionism mean many Chinese deals will stumble.

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The biggest barrier to Ant Financial’s $1.2 billion bid for MoneyGram was always going to be approval by the US authorities, and so it proved.

The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), which to M&A bankers has taken on something of the status of a Bond villain, rejected the deal on national security concerns in what must have been the first thing its staff did after returning to work from the Christmas holidays.

What should we read into this? One interpretation is that the rejection had to do with reciprocity, or the lack of it: the fact that American access into Chinese enterprises is limited, and that if this deal was happening in the other direction – US buyer, Chinese financial services and data player – there is just no way it would be approved.

One can tie this point of view in with Trump’s more protectionist domestic policies in the US, with Ant Financial head Jack Ma’s apparent friendship with the US president clearly not enough to get the deal over the line, but the truth is that Obama nixed a number of China inbound deals as well.

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