China megadeals sway Asia bank rankings

Bank of America
Scott Mlyn | CNBC

China's $26 billion trainmaker merger last week boosted Bank of America Merrill Lynch from third to first in Asia's 2014 dealmaking rankings, highlighting the importance of state-owned enterprises for banks' league table credit.

The region's biggest three deals last year were all the product of SoE reforms — a movement that has triggered bruising battles between banks and league table compilers over how much credit each adviser deserves.

Asian dealmaking reached a record $651 billion in 2014, up a fifth on the previous year and led by China. But bank fees are unlikely to have kept pace.

At issue is whether such deals, directed by the state, involve the sort of strategic advice involved in western dealmaking — and thus deserve similar credit.

Providing the idea or otherwise broking a deal generates far more in fees than arranging such nuts and bolts as shareholder approval or ironing out legal issues.

"It is not like you're at the table negotiating. There's no part in these where someone says 'I think this is the price' and someone else disagrees," said one senior M&A banker of SoE deals.

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BofA advised CSR, alongside China's CICC, in its purchase of fellow SoE trainmaker CNR. The $15.6 billion of credit each bank got for the deal — the value of CNR, according to Dealogic — vaulted BofA past Citigroup and Goldman Sachs, formerly first and second.

One banker involved in the train deal, however, said it was in fact more complex than many SoE deals since it required agreement by four sets of shareholders as both groups are dual-listed in Shanghai and Hong Kong.

"It was agreed by the Chinese government that's true. But how exactly to merge — to balance shareholders, to get regulatory agreement — that was still a big issue to sort out," he said.

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More SoE deals are expected this year as Beijing's push for reform gathers pace — part of its efforts to improve the performance of its sprawling corporate empire, which has long lagged the returns produced by the private sector.

The CSR-CNR deal was the second-biggest in Asia last year, by Dealogic's rankings, behind Sinopec's $17.4 billion partial spin-off of its retail arm and just ahead of Citic's $15.6 billion reverse merger — which involved the injection of $37 billion of state-owned assets into the group's listed Hong Kong subsidiary.

UBS advised CNR alongside Somerley Capital, an independent mid-market Hong Kong adviser, and Great Wall Securities.

Dealogic's tables now give BofA credit for work on deals worth $81 billion, Citi for $78 billion and Goldman for $68 billion in Asia excluding Japan. Add in Australia, where Goldman is particularly strong, and BofA moves to second from third with $92 billion, behind Goldman with $110 billion but pushing ahead of Citi with $87 billion.