A housing project under construction (Photo: VNA)

Hanoi (VNA) – Many big and surprising merger and acquisition (M&A) deals were made in 2016 with retail and real estate continuing to dominate this market.

A deal that has attracted much public attention since late 2016 is the purchase of 78.38 million shares of the Vietnam Dairy Products Joint Stock Company (Vinamilk) through the stock market. The buyer is Singaporean food and beverage firm Fraser & Neave (F&N), owned by Thai billionaire Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi.

If it is successful, F&N will have to spend at least 11.3 trillion VND (over 500 million USD), raising its ownership in Vinamilk from 11 percent to 16.4 percent.

In Q3, TCC Group of this Thai tycoon finished buying the entire wholesale network of Metro Cash & Carry Vietnam, including 19 centres and relevant real estate valued at 655 million EUR (848 million USD).

Central Group, another Thai firm, also spent 1.14 billion USD on acquiring all 32 supermarkets and trade centres of Big C Vietnam from France’s Casino Group.

Another big M&A deal is Thai group Singha’s becoming a strategic partner of Masan Group through buying 25 percent and 33 percent of stakes in Masan Consumer Holdings and Masan Brewery, respectively, at 1.1 billion USD.

The purchase of Maximark by Vingroup, one of the local most dynamic, successful, well-capitalized companies in Viet Nam, with undisclosed value, is also considered a big deal, showing flourishing M&As in the retail and consumer goods sectors.

Dang Xuan Minh, head of a research group of the annual Vietnam M&A Forum (MAF), said retail and consumer goods M&As with the aim of entering and expanding market was the most outstanding trend in 2016.

The surging entrance of foreign retailers into Vietnam’s market and the opening of foreign-owned retail outlets through M&As, especially by Thai companies, in the last three years have turned the retail sector into a prime example in the local M&A market, he noted.

That fact was attributable to the modest proportion (less than 30 percent) of modern retail channels such as supermarkets, hypermarkets, shopping centres and convenience stores in Vietnam’s retail market, promoting this market’s attractiveness to foreign investors.

Tariffs on many goods will be removed as part of commitments in the ASEAN Economic Community with a population of over 600 million. Meanwhile, the maturity of Thailand’s domestic retail industry also encouraged this country’s retailers to expand overseas business, particularly in countries like Vietnam which has an almost 100-million-strong population, Minh added.

Even without multi-billion-dollar deals, real estate was still hot in the M&A market in 2016 with the participation of investors from the Republic of Korea (RoK), Japan and Singapore.

Notably, the RoK’s Mirae Asset cooperated with AON BGN to spend 382 million USD on buying Keangnam Landmark 72 in Hanoi. Mapletree Investments, a Singaporean firm, declared that it acquired Kumho Asiana Plaza project in District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, at a cost of 215 million USD from the Rok joint venture of Kumho Industrial and Asiana Airlines. New Life RE also purchased Duxton Hotel in District 1 at 49.2 million USD from Low Keng Huat.

Domestic enterprises were also busy in property M&As in 2016. While TNR Holdings invested 110 million USD in buying TNR Tower Hanoi from Vingroup, Vietnam’s Muong Thanh Group said it now owns 95 percent of shares at Cienco 5 Land after spending 1.5 trillion VND on this purchase. Vietnamese Rang Dong Group also acquired a five-star resort complex in Binh Thuan province.

According to Stephen Wyatt, country head for Vietnam of global real estate advisor JLL, many foreign investment funds told JLL that they want to increase their presence in Vietnam through investment cooperation or buying existing projects, particularly profitable ones.

Although there hasn’t been detailed statistics, the MAF research group believed total M&A value in 2016 broke the record of 5.2 billion USD set in the previous year.

Chris Freund, CEO of the private equity firm Mekong Capital, believed that M&As will keep vibrant in all fields, especially real estate, agriculture, consumer goods, retail and pharmaceuticals. All foreign clients that Mekong Capital has met are interested in those areas.

Sharing the same view, Alex Crane, General Manager at Cushman & Wakefield Vietnam, forecast retail M&As will continue booming in 2017, elaborating that many foreign businesses have yet to enter Vietnam’s retail market due to high office rental. Therefore, the best solution is M&A, usually through forming a joint venture with a Vietnamese enterprise.

Dang Xuan Minh, however, pointed out an array of challenges for M&A activities in 2017, including changes in the US’s policies, the uncertain future of TPP, obstacles to the equitisation of State-owned enterprises.

To have an M&A value comparable to that of last year, the State must make strong moves to divest its stake in big groups and corporations, he said.-VNA