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Monday, September 28, 2020

China, Beware: Private Equity Takes Note of Smaller Asian Neighbours

“Private equity investors may find deals in Indonesia and Malaysia a more worthwhile bet when seeking investments in Asia, amid waning economic growth in China.”
“The Malaysian economy has proven “buoyant” and sectors like food, consumer, education and manufacturing are still attracting regional interest.”

Wall Street Journal

Customers walk through the Sunway Pyramid Shopping Mall in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia.

Private equity investors may find deals in Indonesia and Malaysia a more worthwhile bet when seeking investments in Asia, amid waning economic growth in China.

Many general partners are now turning their focus to Southeast Asian nations as the “best proxy” for Asia’s growth story, according to Brian Chia of Baker & McKenzie’s member firm Wong & Partners in Malaysia. In comparison, China’s star has started to dim, with many economists expecting the mainland’s August economic data to show stabilization, although at relatively low levels. The data are due for release later this week

The Malaysian economy, however, has proven “buoyant” and sectors like food, consumer, education and manufacturing are still attracting regional interest, said Mr. Chia, adding that “investors like any industry which has a consumer angle.” In China, the consumer story has taken a few steps back, with Morgan Stanley Asia’s economists estimating that the country’s overall “disinflationary trend is still on track.”

Key Malaysia-based players include Navis Private Equity, which manages more than $3 billion, investing in both private and public transactions. The firm secured capital commitments worth 230 million Ringgit ($74 million) for a Malaysia Growth Opportunities Fund I last year, according to its website. Even though Navis is based in Kuala Lumpur, it also targets other Asian countries including Thailand and Singapore.

The consumer sector– including food and beverage, supply chain and health care–is also proving to be a sweet spot for investors in Indonesia on the back of a growing middle class and higher disposable incomes, said Jon Worsfold of Baker & McKenzie.Wong & Leow in Singapore.

International general partners have taken note, with Bain Capital and Blackstone  last month bidding to buy a stake in PT Lippo Karawaci‘s LPKR.JK 0.00% health-care operator Siloam. That stake may total up to 30%, or even more, possibly up to 49%, if bids for the hospital unit equal the target valuation of more than $1 billion, Dow Jones Newswires previously reported.

“It is a decent size deal and business, and in a sector which has a lot of potential – the Indonesian hospital sector needs improvement, and was liberalized in 2010 to allow foreign investment,” said Mr. Worsfold.

In the last five years, Indonesia’s private equity industry was largely dominated by local firms like Saratoga Capital and Northstar Pacific Partners, which is a local partner of TPG Capital and raised $800 million last year, he said.

However, investing in Indonesian deals is still fraught with challenges, the major one being a lack of decent assets for buyouts or a controlling stake, according to Mr. Worsfold, noting that a high premium is usually paid for taking a controlling stake in a portfolio company. Other factors like tax issues, compliance and general deal transparency are also proving hurdles, even for bigger players with more resources.

On top of this, PE players in Indonesia are finding themselves squeezed out by trade buyers on the pricing of deals, he said. “PE funds can’t pay prices that Japanese trade buyers can.”

Worsfold noted Japan’s Suntory Beverage and Food Ltd.’s acquisition of  a 51% stake in Indonesian consumer company GarudaFood, which saw Suntory compete in a “long auction process with PE funds” but eventually outbid them.

A report issued by McKinsey & Co. in June said 15 private equity deals were completed in Indonesia last year, worth about $860 million. Deals across the whole Asia-Pacific region totalled around $65 billion.

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