Big-ticket mergers and acquisitions slowed down significantly in the Asia-Pacific region in the first quarter of 2017.
While most of Asia saw a drop, Indian law firms appeared to be catching up on advising big-ticket mergers and acquisitions, according to the organizations’ first quarter league tables, which rank law firms based on M&A activity.
Four Indian firms made the top 10 legal advisers for M&A deals by volume, thanks to the $12.7 billion sale of Vodafone Group’s Indian business to Mumbai-based carrier Idea Cellular Ltd., the largest M&A deal announced in the first three months of 2017. The four, which played lead roles on the deal, are S&R Associates, AZB & Partners, Vaish Associates, and Bharucha & Partners.
Magic Circle firm Slaughter and May, which is also acting for Vodafone, topped both Bloomberg and Thomson Reuters’ rankings for M&A deals by deal volume. Mergermarket ranked Slaughter and May second after King & Wood Mallesons. The rest of the top 20 vary greatly among the three organizations’ league tables, as different deals were included based on different methodologies.
Despite the difference in rankings, all three organizations reported a slowdown in Asia-Pacific M&A deals during the first three months of this year. According to Mergermarket, the Asia-Pacific region, excluding Japan, saw 697 deals announced in the first quarter, worth a total value of $124.8 billion. That’s 120 fewer deals by deal count than the same period last year. And the value is down by $14.5 billion, or 10.4 percent, compared with the same period last year. Bloomberg reported a 14.3 percent drop, to $174.2 billion in total deal value, the lowest since the third quarter of 2014. And Thomson Reuters, whose rankings included more deals, said the year-on-year deal value decrease reached 31 percent.
The decline was in part due to a visible drop in Chinese outbound acquisitions, a theme that dominated last year’s Asia M&A market. After a record-breaking year of Chinese overseas M&A, the Chinese government imposed a series of measures to curtail capital outflow toward the end of 2016 in order to stabilize its currency’s exchange rate against the dollar and other foreign currencies. Meanwhile, the U.S. government has vowed to adopt tougher regulatory scrutiny of Chinese-led acquisitions, especially in areas where national security might come into play. Measures from both sides have resulted in Chinese investors retreating from overseas deals this year.
Mergermarket reported that 75 Chinese outbound deals with a total value of $11.8 billion were announced in the first quarter of 2017, a steep drop from the 96 deals worth $82 billion during the same period of 2016. Last year’s total deal value was significantly boosted by ChemChina’s $43 billion planned acquisition of Syngenta A.G. The deal, first announced in February 2016, received long-awaited approval from the Chinese Ministry of Commerce this week, clearing a major regulatory hurdle.
Still, Bloomberg said the Greater China region is still the most sought-after for transactions, accounting for more than half (53 percent) of all deals in the region. Slowdown in outbound deals also made investors turn to domestic targets. Bloomberg noted that 96 percent of the Greater China deals it recorded in the first quarter were domestic deals. Mergermarket reported a similar pattern within the region, noting that transactions between two Asian parties accounted for 93 percent of the total deal value of $124.8 billion.
Following a strong year in 2016, the Japanese M&A market suffered a downturn as well compared with a year earlier. Thomson Reuters recorded deals worth $30.5 billion in total value involving Japanese parties, down 27 percent year-on-year, and was the slowest first quarter since 2013. Six deals were valued at $1 billion or more, according to Thomson Reuters data; all but one were outbound deals. Takeda Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd.’s $5.2 billion acquisition of cancer drugmaker Ariad Pharmaceuticals Inc. was the largest deal announced.
Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, Ariad’s counsel in the Takeda deal, Morrison & Foerster, Simpson Thacher & Bartlett and Sullivan & Cromwell were among the firms leading the rankings of Japan deals.
Anna Zhang is based on Hong Kong, where she writes about the business of law and legal issues in Asia and Australia. Contact her at email@example.com. On Twitter: @azhangc.