19 October 2022
M&A in Vietnam gathering momentum after COVID-19
Although COVID-19 did not completely hamper M&A deal flow in Vietnam, travel restrictions and a strict lockdown in the second half of 2021 posed major challenges for buyers and sellers alike. With the gradual unwinding of COVID-related restrictions and the resumption of international flights in October 2021, M&A activity has accelerated. The economy has recovered quickly and the outlook for dealmaking is positive.
|Date||Investor||Target||Deal size (US$m)||Stake|
|Oct-21||SMBC Consumer Finance||FE Credit||1,400||49%|
|Jul-22||Swire Pacific||Coca-Cola Indochina||1,015||100%|
|Dec-21||TPG, Temasek, ADIA||The CrownX||350||4%|
|Nov-21||SK Holdings||The CrownX||345||5%|
|Feb-22||AC Energy||Super Energy’s nine solar plants||165||49%|
|Oct-21||UBS, Mirae, STIC||Tiki||136||Undisclosed|
|Apr-22||Hana Financial Group||BIDV Securities||118||35%|
|Apr-22||Indorama Ventures||Ngoc Nghia Industry||94||98%|
Key drivers propelling post-pandemic deal flow
Vietnam’s economic recovery has proven appealing to investors – it was one of the few countries that recorded two consecutive years of GDP growth in 2020 and 2021 during the height of COVID. According to the General Statistics Office, Vietnam achieved 2.58% GDP growth in 2021, despite experiencing one of the strictest lockdowns in the world during the second half of that year. Looking ahead, the Asian Development Bank is forecasting that Vietnam’s economic growth will recover to 6.5% in 2022. In fact, GDP growth in Q2 2022 was 7.7%, the highest quarterly growth in the last ten years.
Pent-up dealmaking demand is a key driver. Both strategic investors and financial sponsors have a large amount of capital to invest and are keen to identify new opportunities or revive discussions that were on hold. Industry leaders are actively looking for acquisitions to consolidate market share within their verticals, taking advantage perhaps of competitors weakened by COVID and slower to rebound. In addition, many companies are looking to position themselves for recovery in the post-pandemic economy and need new capital injections for internal transformation and further growth in order to remain competitive.
The resumption of international travel is also significant. In-person due diligence and site visits have facilitated many deals that were previously put on hold, especially for asset-heavy industries such as industrials, logistics, and healthcare. Since October 2021, BDA has met with numerous foreign investors who have expressed a strong interest in Vietnam. After a two-year hiatus, BDA organised its annual networking event in Ho Chi Minh City in May 2022 with over 200 participants – mainly investors and corporate shareholders – and all appreciated the opportunity to reconnect in person and discuss the future.
Trends expected to persist post COVID
Domestic investors had an advantage over their foreign counterparts during COVID given their local presence, and this led to an increase in domestic deal flow and volume. Although COVID-related border restrictions have now been lifted, BDA has seen local conglomerates continuing their acquisition spree in a market that has historically been dominated by foreign buyers. For example, in addition to its investment in Phuc Long, Masan also acquired a 25% stake in Trusting Social, a company engaged with credit scoring based on social data, for US$65m in April 2022. This was another transaction in which BDA acted as the exclusive advisor to the target company. Nova Group has been on an acquisition spree, expanding its ecosystem with a focus on Consumer businesses, having acquired and taken over the operations of major F&B establishments such as Jumbo Seafood, Sushi Tei, Crystal Jade, and PhinDeli.
From a deal negotiation perspective, BDA has observed several points that have become particularly important during deal negotiations. With material adverse change (“MAC”) clauses, buyers and sellers now need to acknowledge the risk of a significant downturn in the business as a result of COVID. MAC provisions typically exclude market-wide macroeconomic impact, but since COVID has different effects on different industries, the negotiation of specific triggers in MAC clauses needs to be scrutinised. Earn-outs have become more common by bridging valuation gaps under scenarios of temporary uncertainty, while also enabling sellers to share in the upside of long-term growth. Warranty and indemnity (“W&I”) insurance, a rare option in Vietnam deals in the past, is also being used more frequently, as both buyers and sellers appreciate the benefit of a smoother and faster signing and closing process.
During the height of domestic lockdown and border restrictions in 2021, virtual interaction was the only option in most cases for M&A transactions in Vietnam. We expect that for non-key discussions, virtual meetings will continue to be a common option in the future. However, for other key parts of the transaction process such as site visits and due diligence, which were supported by on-the-ground advisors and virtual tours during COVID, and especially for negotiations, in-person participation will still be preferred going forward.
Global slowdown in M&A in 2022 and beyond
Global M&A in H1 2022 is down 21% by value and 17% by volume compared H1 2021, partly due to the cooldown in SPAC-related transactions. Inflationary pressure across the supply chain, geopolitical tensions, and a rising interest rate environment have also contributed to the volatility that could become a recurring theme in the M&A market over the next year or so.
Inasmuch as businesses in Vietnam are not immune to these factors, we still believe that 2022 will remain another busy year for Vietnam’s M&A market. Investors have not shown any reduced appetite in dealmaking in Vietnam, as evidenced in their interest in BDA’s ongoing mandates. We believe that there are a lot of high-quality assets that have proven resilient against turbulence brought about by COVID that are now well-positioned for robust growth, and we look forward to a busy period ahead with a long list of current live deals and ongoing opportunities.
Tailwinds for future growth in M&A in Vietnam include:
- Strong socio-economic backbone: Vietnam will still benefit from steady economic growth, political stability, and a bourgeoning middle class population. Participation in multiple free trade agreements and open-market policies make Vietnam an attractive destination for foreign investment
- Rising importance as a manufacturing hub: More global corporations are expected to relocate to Vietnam, as the country has made significant progress in infrastructure development to catch up with international standards, with major investments from both public and private sectors. The US-China trade war and prolonged COVID restrictions in China have also led to more manufacturers moving operations to Vietnam
- Improving regulatory landscape: It is worth noting that with regards to M&A regulation and processes, local authorities have continuously been improving their turn-around time, while working towards clearer guidelines. For example, Decree 155/ND-CP guiding the implementation of the Law on Securities, which took effect in 2021, has provided additional clarification and detailed guidance with regard to the public tender offer process and foreign ownership limits
- Growing familiarity with M&A: Local businesses are becoming more professional with strong management teams and better corporate governance. Vietnamese companies are now more familiar with M&A concepts and are open to consider strategic partnerships with foreign investors, who can provide support through best practices in business operations and have extensive experience from global markets
Most attractive sectors in Vietnam for M&A
- The Consumer sector will continue to be one of the main drivers of transaction volume
- Investors will target Vietnam as one of the fastest growing economies in the region, with its growing middle class and a young population with increasing income and propensity to spend
- In response to the lack of capacity within the national healthcare system, there has been an ongoing shift in demand towards private care
- Private hospitals will continue to attract interest from both strategic and financial investors, especially as patient volumes and occupancy rates are recovering to pre-COVID levels, while more profitable surgeries and procedures are reintroduced
- Within private education, both local and international schools received significant interest from investors before COVID emerged
- We expect discussions regarding education assets will be restarted in the near future, as the businesses’ performance recover now that students of all levels have returned to the classrooms
- Tailwinds from high growth in exports, a booming Internet economy, and supply chain shift from China will continue to propel growth in Vietnam’s logistics industry
- Assets in warehousing (especially smart logistics) and cold chain will generate strong interest from global investors
- An underbanked population with a shortage of financing and credit solutions will spur further investments in financial services
- The focus will be on consumer finance / fintech companies that provide solutions to enable access to non-bank credit for both individuals and micro, small, and medium businesses
- With a rapidly growing economy, Vietnam has been at risk of power shortages due to a lack of power infrastructure.
- Capital injections into the development of renewable energy could provide a suitable solution. Attractive feed-in-tariffs and untapped potential in solar and wind power capacity will make Vietnam an attractive destination for investors
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