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Business deals

Japan Inc recovers appetite for foreign acquisitions

Deal value in Q2 jumps 455% from pandemic low as vaccine rollout buoys optimism

The value of Japanese outbound M&A surged in the second quarter to nearly six times that recorded during its pandemic low last year. (Source photo by Arisa Moriyama) 

TOKYO -- Japanese companies are starting to accelerate their overseas expansion, with the value of outbound mergers and acquisitions surging in the second quarter to nearly six times the amount recorded during its pandemic low.

Japan Inc. logged 182 deals during the April-June period, up 56% from a year ago, with total value jumping 455% to hit 2.16 trillion yen ($19 billion), according to data from M&A consultancy Recof.

The pick-up in deal-making signifies Japan's hunger for growth, especially as the country faces a declining population, with the accelerated vaccine rollout buoying economic optimism.

Corporate Japan had been on a global M&A spree before the coronavirus outbreak as more companies sought to diversify their businesses and invest overseas. In 2019 the overall number of overseas acquisitions hit a historic high of 826.

Once the pandemic hit, many companies reined in investments as concerns over the global economy and supply chain disruptions rose. Many businesses also prioritized protecting their employees and preserving cash instead of increasing investments.

However, as the vaccine rollout accelerates across certain countries and global superpowers like the U.S. and China show signs of economic recovery, the appetite in Japan for cross-border M&A is gradually recovering.

In the second quarter, overseas acquisitions gained pace even when compared to the January-March period. Deal numbers rose 29% from the first quarter, while total value increased 9%.

Total deal value for the first half of 2021 has already reached 4.1 trillion yen, on a par with 2020's overall deal value of 4.4 trillion yen.

BIZIT, which operates an online investment matching platform under global M&A advisory GCA Corp., said: "The momentum for overseas acquisitions is starting to pick up, with more companies accessing our platform in the last two to three months."

The biggest acquisition announced so far this year was by Hitachi. The electrical equipment company is set to acquire U.S. software developer GlobalLogic for $9.6 billion as it aims to advance Lumada, its key Internet of Things platform.

Another Japanese electronics company, Panasonic, also plans to complete its acquisition of Blue Yonder, a U.S. developer of supply chain management systems, for $7.1 billion -- its biggest acquisition in a decade.

"Most of the deals that are going through are Japanese companies buying software makers or IT-related firms," said Keishi Sakakibara, the manager for cross-border deals at Nihon M&A Center, Japan's largest independent M&A firm.

He points out that software makers are easier to buy compared to manufacturers, as "travel restrictions make it difficult for companies to visit overseas factories." He added: "Japanese companies are hesitant to purchase without actually seeing the seller's plants and operations."

Tech investment conglomerate SoftBank Group also pumped out nearly $3 billion in new funding by purchasing a 40% stake in AutoStore, a Norway-based robotics firm that specializes in warehouse automation technology. Together, they are seeking to capture the growth in the logistics market as the pandemic drives online shopping.

While the biggest deals consisted mostly of Japanese companies acquiring Western ones, smaller deals in Asia are still growing in number.

BIZIT notes that the demand to purchase companies in Singapore and Vietnam have been strong. Both countries have shown economic resilience thanks to the implementation of strict virus control measures.

Nihon M&A Center's Sakakibara expects deals to continue picking up as countries reopen business travel and inoculation speeds up.

Japan aims to complete vaccinating its citizens by October or November. "I think the cross-border M&A market will have a bright outlook starting next year as vaccinations progress."

Meanwhile, BIZIT points out that there have been some difficulties completing deals. "While sellers want the deal to go through at the highest price possible, COVID impacts to earnings are making it hard for buyers and sellers to agree on a price," it said, leading to a postponement of some deals.

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