New twist in China’s first blue-chip hostile takeover battle
Shanghai — Shares in China’s biggest property firm Vanke surged on Friday after it announced a stock-holding shift that could end a bid by private conglomerate Baoneng to pull off the country’s first hostile blue-chip takeover. For more than a year Vanke’s leadership has sought to fend off Baoneng’s advances, which have also prompted an official government denunciation of "barbarian" takeover attempts.
Since 2015 Baoneng has built up a 25% stake to become Vanke’s biggest shareholder in what has emerged as a test of how much progress China’s often dysfunctional stock market and corporate world were making in opening up to free-market practices such as blue-chip takeovers.
But late on Thursday Vanke told the Hong Kong stock exchange that Chinese state-owned subway operator Shenzhen Metro Group, which is believed to be sympathetic to Vanke’s top bosses, would purchase a 15.31% stake in the firm.
Respected business journal Caixin reported on Friday that Shenzhen Metro Group may buy the 14.07% Vanke stake held by Guangzhou Evergrande, another major property firm, which would give it a bigger stake than Baoneng.
The state-run Shanghai Securities News said Shenzhen Metro’s involvement "means Vanke’s share-control battle took a significant step in the direction of a solution" in Vanke’s favour. Vanke shares have see-sawed amid the takeover battle and analysts said the latest move helps lay the turmoil to rest, with Vanke’s land business a potential partner for the subway operator.
"The synergy effect between Shenzhen Metro and Vanke would be great," said Dickie Wong, Hong Kong-based research director for Kingston Securities, calling the plans "the best outcome" for Vanke.
Vanke’s Hong Kong-listed shares surged as much as 8.6% early on Friday, before ending the day at HK$19.66, up 5.70%. Its shares on the Shenzhen market, China’s second stock exchange after Shanghai, closed 6.91% higher at 21.81 yuan.
Baoneng’s bid may have already been doomed after Liu Shiyu, head of the China Securities Regulatory Commission, railed last month against blue-chip takeovers by suitors who become "a barbarian, and then eventually a bandit", comments widely seen as prompted by the Vanke battle.
Vanke Chairman Wang Shi and his executives currently own only about 0.2% of the company, but retain a tight grip by virtue of their positions and their reputations as being among China’s best management teams. Analysts say takeovers are a sign of market health and that Vanke’s resistance highlights the backwardness of China’s stock markets, along with the power of vested interests in the world’s second-largest economy.
However, last year Vanke blamed the tussle for causing "negative impacts on the normal operation" of the company, including major business deals that have fallen through due to the uncertainty. Vanke suspended trading in its shares for six months last year as it tried to fend off Baoneng.