Chinese chipmaker Tsinghua Unigroup to buy France's Linxens for $2.6 bln - sources

sources@

HONG KONG, July 25 (Reuters) - China's top state chip manufacturer Tsinghua Unigroup Ltd has signed a deal to acquire French smart chip components maker Linxens for about 2.2 billion euros ($2.6 billion), five people with direct knowledge of the matter said.

The deal, which the sources said was signed over a month ago but has not yet been announced publicly, will be a key test of European regulators' stance on Chinese investment in the region that has been on the rise amid the country's worsening trade relations with the United States.

Tsinghua's acquisition of Linxens from private-equity group CVC is still pending regulatory clearance, three of the sources told Reuters, adding regulators in France, Germany and the company's union need to approve the deal.

The authorities are not expected to object, the sources said on condition of anonymity as the information is confidential.

Tsinghua and Linxens did not respond to requests for comment on the deal, which would be the first overseas investment by the Chinese firm in two years.

According to three sources, Tsinghua has already locked in a deal with four banks for a 1.5 billion euro (US$1.75 billion) bridge loan to fund the transaction. Credit Suisse, a main lender in the loan, also advised the seller, the people said.

Credit Suisse declined to comment.

The deal marks Tsinghua's first offshore investment since three Taiwanese chip makers - Powertech Technology Inc , ChipMOS Technologies Inc and Siliconware Precision Industries Co - scrapped planned share sales totalling $2.6 billion to the group in 2016 and 2017 after failing to get local regulatory approval in time.

That followed a 2015 debacle when an informal $23 billion approach for U.S. giant Micron Technology Inc was rejected by the Idaho-based chipmaker amid national security concerns - a rationale that has increasingly been used to block Chinese deals in sensitive U.S. industries.

So far this year, China has spent $45.5 billion on European assets, more than double year-ago levels, while its investments in the United States has dropped 75 percent to $1.9 billion, according to Thomson Reuters data.

Linxens, headquartered close to Paris, has 535 million euros in annual sales and employs 3,500 staff at nine production sites globally. It also has offices in China, Singapore and Thailand.

Linxens, which does not have a U.S. presence according to its website, makes connectors crucial for communication between smart cards and electronic readers.

It also makes antennas and inlays for applications such as contactless payment, transport and access. (Reporting by Kane Wu and Prakash Chakravarti of LPC; additional reporting by Arno Schuetze in Frankfurt and Gwénaëlle Barzic in Paris; Editing by Himani Sarkar)