Chinese firms' growing ODI offers opportunities

BY    2012-07-10 21:03:42

While the past decade was the period that saw a huge inflow of foreign investment into China, the coming 10 years are certain to herald a wave of outbound direct investment by Chinese companies.

Although some people have expressed doubts over the intentions behind Chinese companies' overseas investment, a number of examples show that these projects create win-win benefits.

Huang Bao'an, administrative vice-president of Qingdao Kingking Group, the world's second-largest candle maker, has been traveling around the world since early this year, from Africa to Europe, to see whether there are business opportunities amid the spreading European debt crisis.

"We plan to invest $100 million to develop gold and copper mines across the world in the next three years", with Africa being a priority, he told China Daily.

Due to the debt woes, "many European companies, which own energy projects in Africa, are finding it hard to survive and are considering halting or withdrawing their investments. This has given Chinese enterprises huge opportunities to invest abroad and develop natural resources", he said.

As part of the expansion, Kingking, based in the coastal city of Qingdao in Shandong province, is considering buying a gold mine in Mozambique, covering more than 100 square kilometers.

While the European debt crisis worsens and the global economy remains sluggish, developed economies are committed to economic stimulus, while developing economies are boosting their spending on infrastructure construction.

"This offers Chinese companies new opportunities for overseas investment," said Wang Shengwen, deputy director-general of the Department of Outward Investment and Economic Cooperation at the Ministry of Commerce.

Chen Runyun, commercial counselor at the department, agreed.

"China's ODI is still in the initial stages, but the growth trend is clear. ODI is on a fast-growth track which will probably continue for some decades," Chen said.

Due to the global financial crisis, foreign direct investment worldwide has been weak since 2008, but China's outbound investment has grown.

In 2010, China overtook Japan and the United Kingdom to become the fifth-largest global investor. China was the largest investor among developing economies in 2010 and 2011.

The nation's ODI grew 1.8 percent year-on-year to $60 billion last year.

And the trend is set to get even stronger.

A recent statement from the ministry said that ODI is expected to register an annual growth rate of 17 percent from 2011 to 2015, reaching $150 billion in 2015.

Kingking's expansion plan comes after a series of purchases in the United States since the outbreak of the global financial crisis.

In January 2009, the company bought 9 sq km of oilfields from the US State of Oklahoma, the first time a Chinese company bought oilfields in the United States. Later, the company purchased six oilfields covering 290 sq km in the US states of Texas and Louisiana.

"Our success in the US could be attributed to the global financial crisis, which caused problems for energy companies and also forced the US government to loosen investment restrictions on M&A deals," Huang said.

During the past few years, the Chinese government has stepped up its efforts to encourage Chinese companies to expand overseas.

In 2011, in his annual Government Work Report, Premier Wen Jiabao, for the first time, prioritized boosting the nation's ODI over absorbing FDI.

Expansion: More companies opt for M&As

In his 2012 Government Work Report, Wen also emphasized the point, saying that China will encourage enterprises to buy, invest and merge in key sectors overseas, including energy, raw materials, agriculture and manufacturing, the first time that specific sectors were included in such a report.

Considering many factors, including the Chinese government's positive attitude and the large volume of foreign exchange reserves, "the high growth trend (of Chinese ODI) is irreversible", said Jessie Tang, a partner at Jones Day's Beijing office.

Jones Day is the world's eighth-largest law firm in terms of revenue that specializes in mergers and acquisitions.

"There are many driving forces behind the surge," she said.

"Chinese enterprises either want commodities, markets, technology or brands, or simply expand their business overseas and create jobs to fend off growing trade protectionism."

M&As represent a growing trend in Chinese ODI, which had previously been dominated by investment in greenfield sites, including new factories or new infrastructure.

Last year, 37 percent of Chinese ODI by value was realized through M&As, in the mining, manufacturing, transportation and retail sectors.

"The energy and mining sectors will be the major focus of M&A activity," said Li Tong, executive director of the China Enterprise Forum.

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