28 May 2018

State of Play: M&A for foreign investors

The Australian M&A market is steady for foreign investment, and it'll be interesting to see how regulatory concerns for high-profile or sensitive M&A play out in the next 12 months, says Rory Moriarty.

To learn more about the key market trends and latest legal developments in Australia, visit our Australian Market: the state of play page.

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Just talking about the Australian M&A market at the moment.  There's probably two themes in the market, it's been a steady market but what we are seeing is one: the mega deal and second of all: some interest in particular sectors.  So taking the mega deals first, we're seeing deals such as Westfield, traditional strong Australian sector where we have M&A activity in the property sector.  That's one of the largest deals in Australia in a long time and it shows the interest in offshore property players in Australian companies which also have built offshore platforms.  The second type of deal is the TabCorp merger.  Once again a traditional strong Australian industry gaming and wagering and bringing together two very large players and dealing with some regulatory issues, including concerns raised by the ACCC. 

The next piece is the sectoral focus.  In that regard we've seen some real interest again in energy and resources.  That sector was affected obviously by the downturn in commodity prices but is now undergoing a resurgence.  Some examples there are the recent record prices achieved by Rio Tinto for the sale of their coal interests, coking coal interests in Queensland and also New South Wales a little over a year ago and what's interesting there is the interest from not only traditional listed companies and resource players but also private equity, and in particular the largest asset that Rio sold there, their Kestrel was sold to a private equity firm.  We're also seeing oil and gas, recent competitive bidding situations for AWE by Mitsui and Mineral Resources.  We now see that that company misses out on AWE, and it's now Mineral Resources that is merging with Atlas Iron.  So we're starting to see both the private equity players and the traditional resource companies undertaking significant M&A in that sector, and that's a sector if commodity prices hold, will increase.  We expect to see more interest. 

In terms of other sectors, we're seeing a lot of interest in health care and agricultural primary produce.  In terms of health care there's a lot of private equity interest and a lot of interest inbound from China.  So for example the recent sale of iMed to Primera.  We're also finding in agriculture, still a very significant interest in dairy and other similar assets around Australia.  Recent example is Murray Goulburn and I think that deal shows the importance of regulatory approvals in the Australian market.  So on the one hand you had the successful by Saputo dealing with competition law concerns and then on the other hand you had the other rumoured bidders from China dealing with foreign investment review board matters.  I think it will become quite interesting in the next 12 months how regulatory concerns play out in M&A, particularly high profile or sensitive M&A.  So that's what's happening in the sector at the moment.  We expect that much will continue for the next 12 months and we look forward to seeing how it develops.