What to expect from the Industrials sector in Asia – Interview with Simon Kavanagh

Simon Kavanagh, Partner and Head of Industrials at BDA, shares his views on where we will see the most M&A activity within Industrials in Asia, in terms of sub-sectors, markets and key players in 2021 and beyond.

– Which are the most active sub-sectors in Industrials in Asia in terms of M&A activity since 2020?

There are two sub-sectors within Industrials where we’re certainly seeing a lot of activity. One is general component manufacturing, both metal components and plastic components. The automotive sector in particular has rebounded from a low in 2020, and we are seeing several deals in the marketplace currently. Component manufacturing then extends up into EMS and assembly, and there’s quite a lot of focus on electronic components, especially where there’s a technology angle.

The general trend for 2021 onwards is that technology is key. The R&D capabilities of target companies are scrutinized very closely by investors and the extent of their technology expertise has a meaningful impact on valuation. For pure play component manufacturing companies, with less of a technology angle, there is less demand, and appetite and valuations are lower.

Another sub-sector where we are starting to see increased activity is in waste recycling. This ties into the general mega theme towards ESG, which is becoming an attractive investment sector and one which funds and LPs are actively looking for opportunities.

At the end of 2020, BDA closed a milestone transaction in the semiconductor sector with the sale of Compart to Shanghai Wanye. Compart is a leading global supplier of semiconductor components and assemblies, headquartered in Singapore with manufacturing plants in China and Malaysia. Do you see more opportunities in this subsector? Who are the most active investors? 

The sale of Compart was a very successful transaction, for both buyer and seller. The investment environment is strong and there are several additional semiconductor related transactions coming to the market. BDA is currently working on a number of these, each in a different stage of the semiconductor manufacturing supply chain.

China has made it a priority to strengthen its domestic semiconductor capability and Chinese companies are keen acquirers. There is a strong willingness for Chinese corporates to borrow money and for private equity firms to commit capital to semiconductor related targets.

We expect the Chinese pace of investment in the semiconductor sector to continue for the next few years. It is an industry where most of the manufacturing and the technology is outside of China, either in Taiwan, Korea or the US. So there is a strategic value to the companies they are buying, even if valuation is relatively high.  Private equity firms specialising in the semiconductor sector have sprung up. Wise Road Capital is one of the better-known ones: earlier this year it acquired MagnaChip in Korea for US$1bn.  It was unusual for a Chinese company to buy something in Korea of that size, but it followed their 2020 acquisition of United Test and Assembly Center.

How do you view the acquisition appetite of financial sponsors versus strategic investors for the Asian Industrials sector?

Financial sponsors have the upper hand at the moment and that will continue throughout 2021, until the macroeconomic environment stabilises and travel restrictions are lifted. The investor universe for industrial companies is weighted quite heavily towards Asian financial sponsors, with some activity and interest from Asian strategics. However, financial sponsors are much more flexible in terms of considering cross border M&A in the Covid-19 environment and being able to complete due diligence virtually.

Sponsor investors across the board are looking to increase their exposure to the region. Several international private equity firms have raised large Asia-only focused funds since 2020, including KKR, Blackstone and Carlyle. China-focused private equity firms (Boyu, Primavera, Fountainvest, BPEA, Hillhouse and PAG) are also investing or raising billion-dollar funds.

Strategic investors tend to be a little more conservative. It has not been a priority for US or European corporates to make significant investments in Asia these past couple of years: they have tended to focus on their home markets. The difficulty of doing site visits under the current Covid-19 travel restrictions has more of an impact on them, than on financial investors.  However, while it is early stages, BDA is starting to see a change in the trend with a noticeable increase in the number of corporate clients calling us in 2021 to discuss buyside roles in Asia.

China outbound M&A in 2020 was the lowest level in the last decade. Do you still see Chinese investors having a conservative view in outbound industrial deals in 2021?

The volume of China outbound M&A has come back from the low of 2020. Outbound volume in Q1 2021 was up 15.9% YoY. But in general, yes, the heyday of Chinese outbound diversification has gone. US assets are still out of favor due to geopolitical tensions. Europe is attractive, but acquirers are far more cautious, both in terms of what they buy and how much they pay for it. 

When they do make acquisitions it’s the technology that is most critical. China’s next stage of development is very much towards being at the forefront of technological leadership and R&D capabilities. They are looking at what this target can bring to them in the industry. Does it have something that is not essentially in China already? What can a new Chinese owner do to win Chinese customers for this foreign company? Does the target company have some special intellectual property or is it the leading expert in a particular niche? Technology will remain the key driver for outbound M&A for many more years.

SPACs have been a hot topic recently. What impact do you think SPACs will have on the industrial sector in Asia?

Not much of an impact. SPACs tend to focus on high growth companies that are looking at raising capital and want to do an IPO, but are less suited to the more traditional routes for public listing. There are not many industrial companies that fall into that category. Local Asian SPACs are still not regulated or available / approved by regulators in either Hong Kong or Singapore, although that will change in due course. In order to pursue the SPAC route in either the US or Europe, the business needs to be big, like Grab. But if you’re a US$1 billion valuation Industrials company, you won’t need to sell new shares to raise capital, and if you’re looking for liquidity you will probably just go and do a normal route IPO or sell to a financial sponsor.

Is the shift of manufacturing capacity to Vietnam, at the expense of China, continuing?

Yes, the trend will continue for the foreseeable future. Vietnam still has a significant cost advantage over China, particularly for labor-intensive industries. Companies are not necessarily moving their entire supply chain from China to Vietnam, but if they are adding capacity, it’s less likely that they will be making that capital expenditure in China. Vietnam, as well as Malaysia to some extent, are continuing to benefit because of their well-qualified workforce of engineers and a friendly FDI regulatory environment.

With our strong BDA Partners team on the ground in Vietnam, we are seeing and working on a lot of founder-owned sellside transactions where the target companies are very attractive bolt-on acquisitions for strategic investors. We’re witnessing the start of a shift, where a generation of founders of some very successful Vietnamese companies are looking for liquidity, and they need access to an international investor universe and an advisor to help guide them through an M&A process.

About BDA Partners

BDA Partners is the global investment banking advisor for Asia. We are a premium provider of Asia-related advice to sophisticated clients globally, with 25 years’ experience advising on cross-border M&A, capital raising, and financial restructuring. We provide global reach with our teams in New York and London, and true regional depth through our seven Asian offices in Mumbai, Singapore, Ho Chi Minh City, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Seoul and Tokyo. BDA has deep expertise in the Chemicals, Consumer & Retail, Health, Industrials, Services and Technology sectors. We work relentlessly to earn our clients’ trust by delivering insightful advice and outstanding outcomes. BDA Partners has strategic partnerships with William Blair, a premier global investment banking business, and with DBJ (Development Bank of Japan), a Japanese government-owned bank with US$150bn of assets.

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