It's not all about the money.
The recent run of failed China deals, including a bid for Germany's Osram Licht AG that now looks shaky, have largely involved acquirers that aren't known globally, even though they may be offering eye-popping premiums.
Sanan Optoelectronics Co. and GSR Go Scale Capital Advisor Ltd. have reportedly abandoned plans to take a majority stake in Osram at a time when protectionism looks set to increase under a Donald Trump presidency and as China tightens the screws on its companies' offshore ambitions. Resistance from staff and politicians means a minority stake may be discussed, at most, according to Reuters.
What Sanan and Go Scale, coincidentally the same private-equity firm that pulled out of buying Royal Philips NV's Lumileds unit earlier this year, have in common with other failed suitors is their relatively low profile.
Chinese-backed Grand Chip Investment GmbH walked away from its 670 million euro ($713 million) bid for German semiconductor-equipment supplier Aixtron SE this month after President Barack Obama upheld a recommendation by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. that the sale be stopped. Little is known about Grand Chip beyond it being a special-purpose vehicle established for the transaction by Fujian Grand Chip Investment Fund LP, which is controlled and managed by Fujian Grand Chip Managing Partner Liu Zhendong. U.S. security analysts have said the group is affiliated with the Chinese government, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Sanan for its part may be big in China, but isn't that significant elsewhere. Go Scale, meanwhile, is an investment fund sponsored by U.S. firm Oak Investment Partners and China's GSR Ventures Management Co. that has yet to ink any major deals.
And while it's not entirely clear why Anbang Insurance Group Co. dropped its $14 billion offer for Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc., the insurer's opaque ownership structure certainly had U.S. lawmakers worried.
Contrast those names with Midea Group Co. It's one of China's top appliance makers, with some 21 production facilities and 260 logistics centers in over 200 countries. Almost 40 percent of its sales come from outside the nation. Already, most German investors are on board with its purchase of robot maker Kuka AG, and while the deal is still being vetted by CFIUS, there's a high chance it'll get done.
China National Chemical Corp., or ChemChina, which is in talks to buy Switzerland's Syngenta AG, wasn't exactly famous overseas but made a splash with its Pirelli & C. SpA merger and since has launched a marketing campaign in Europe.
In short, being known counts for a lot when it comes to being trusted.
A December survey of 1,500 opinion leaders in the U.S., the U.K. and Germany by public relations firm Brunswick Group LLC found that 66 percent of respondents with a lot of knowledge about China were favorable toward the nation's businesses while just over half with little or no knowledge were unfavorable. Respondents rating Chinese companies low on the trust scale listed ethical conduct, treatment of employees, contribution to society and engaging with the community as being especially weak.
Chinese companies' travails turn basic dealmaking principles on their head. Usually, the mantra is: know your target. Increasingly, it needs to be: know your acquirer. At a time when corporations in Asia's largest economy need to look beyond their own borders for growth, a little PR can go a long way.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.
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