In November, FinanceAsia announced the winners of its Achievement Awards for the past year, picking out the best private banks and the most impressive deals by country and deals by category. We also honoured the outstanding banks, financial institutions and law firm in the region.
Today, we explain in depth why the outstanding houses won over our panel of judges. You can also find out more about the winners of our country awards and deal awards by category. All awards will be handed out at a special ceremony on February 16 at the Grand Hyatt Hong Kong.
The United Kingdom’s vote to leave the European Union, doubts about China’s economy, and the election of Donald Trump have added sources of volatility few bank bosses would welcome. But Aristeguieta has done an impressive job.
He was given the difficult task of managing a bank that is both sprawling and focused, that operates in countries around the world but that has made efforts to trim its client base.
He moved to centralise the corporate banking structure, picking Gerry Keefe to take the new job of head of corporate banking in Asia Pacific. But he then went a step further, replicating that structure in countries across the region.
Compared to the more fragmented structure that Citi previously operated, with different sector heads jockeying for position, this was a smart move.
Citi’s strength lies in its balance. This is obvious when you focus on consumer and corporate banking. Its consumer banking business generated $5.1 billion of revenues by the end of the third quarter. The institutional clients group brought in $5.4 billion of revenues.
But that balance also applies to Citi’s exposure to countries throughout the region. In the first nine months of the year, Citi managed to generate impressive revenues from China, Hong Kong, India, Korea, Singapore and Taiwan. No country in the region accounts for more than 12% of its revenues. This spread is helping the bank to put focus on inter-Asian country flows, as well as the familiar territory of helping Asian companies move to other continents.
Citi has cut some of its client base, focusing only on those big — or high-growth — companies that can provide it with a lasting source of revenue. Citi’s pitch to those clients is that it can help them go global, providing everything from trade finance to M&A advisory. So far, the pitch seems to be working. It now banks some of the biggest tech companies in the region.
The consumer bank has pulled off steady growth in Asia, rising in each of the first three quarters of 2016 to hit $1.75 billion by the end of September. This is despite Citi cutting its branch network in the region. At the end of the third quarter of 2015, Citi had 521 branches and $87 billion of deposits. A year later, it had 458 branches and $93.8 billion of deposits.
On the investment banking side, Citi continued to impress in 2016. The firm’s debt capital markets team is considered one of the very best in the region, helping close deals for a variety of Chinese and Southeast Asian borrowers. Perhaps the standout was Sinopec’s $3 billion four-tranche in April, a deal that scored despite wider doubts about the oil and gas sector.
The bank also impressed in ECM, despite a difficult year across the region. It worked on listings for Orient Securities, Cemex and ZTO Express, among others. But the highlight was surely Citi’s role as global coordinator on Samsung BioLogics’ $2 billion IPO, a deal that was impressive enough to win our best equity deal category.
In the M&A market, Citi played a role in one of the most impressive deals of the year — Shanghai Electric’s acquisition of K-Electric in Pakistan. It advised a consortium including FountainVest and CPPIB on the sale of Key Safety Systems. It worked on multi-billion dollar deals in India, Taiwan and Southeast Asia.
Citi is, finally, one of the leaders in Asia’s syndicated loan market. The bank worked on landmark loans for Tata Steel, Tencent, Alibaba and Pertamina in 2016. It also worked on the mysterious ‘Project Glory’, a closely-guarded leveraged financing that looked set to close by the end of our awards period.
BEST INVESTMENT BANK
One way for investment banks to impress is to take a leading role in the prevailing trend. Morgan Stanley has done that in 2016, working on a number of Chinese outbound M&A deals. But more impressive is when banks manage to buck the trend — showing that revenues are still available even when their rivals are suffering.
That is exactly what Morgan Stanley did in the equity capital markets. The bank worked on five of the six largest IPOs priced during our awards period, including the HK$57.6 billion ($7.4 billion) listing of Postal Savings Bank of China.
It also made innovations, most notably when it helped Softbank use a rare mandatory trigger to close a $6.6 billion exchangeable into Alibaba shares, alongside a $3.4 billion block sale.
Morgan Stanley defied a slowdown in ECM deal flow to close $14.4 billion of deals by December 14. That was 22.8% higher than the amount the US bank managed last year, despite a roughly 60% drop in overall equity volumes in Asia.
By itself, that was a breath-taking achievement. It was enough to make Morgan Stanley the clear winner of our award for best ECM house, despite strong pitches from banks forced to find bespoke solutions for their clients.
But in 2016, Morgan Stanley did much more. The bank was one of the standout advisors on M&A transactions throughout the year, working on a variety of deals that look sure to stand the test of time. In particular, Morgan Stanley was able to take a leading role in Chinese outbound M&A, without a doubt the major theme of the year.
It lined up with both sellers and buyers on M&A deals. The bank advised Supercell on its $10.2 billion acquisition by Tencent and Ingram Micro on its $6.3 billion acquisition by HNA Group. But it joined the buy-side on Midea’s $5.1 billion acquisition of German robotics company Kuka, and advised private equity firms MBK Partners and TPG on their acquisition of Wharf T&T.
In the debt world, Morgan Stanley rarely competes for top slots in league tables. But the bank can boast some profitable sources of business. It launched Samsonite’s $2.425 billion senior secured acquisition loan during a period of market turbulence. It brought India’s Novelis to market for two $1 billion-plus deals in the space of less than a month.
Morgan Stanley impressed most in 2016 not because it managed to survive in a volatile period, but because it managed to prosper.
From eye-catching financing packages and headline-grabbing acquisitions to the most impressive ECM performance in recent memory, Morgan Stanley shined bright.
BEST ASIAN INVESTMENT BANK
Singapore’s DBS dominates its domestic market, hogging the top spot in league tables covering the gamut of the capital markets.
The bank managed to win slots in some of Singapore’s biggest and most high-profile equity deals during our awards period, and in particular showed its skill in bringing foreign and domestic real estate investment trusts to the market.
Among the stand-out deals, DBS helped Mapletree Commercial Trust raise just over S$1 billion ($690 million) from a dual-tranche deal that combined a private placement with a rights issue, closed a listing for Manulife’s US Reit, and helped Australia’s Frasers Logistics and Industrial Trust close a successful IPO.
In the bond market, DBS has long been a dominant player in Singapore, but it proved in 2016 it was more than adept at stepping offshore. The bank brought a swathe of dollar bonds from Chinese banks, state-owned enterprises and property companies.
DBS has made liability management exercises one of its key selling points to local and foreign clients alike, launching consent solicitations for clients including 21Vianet, Yuexiu Property, Ezra and China Eastern Airlines.
The bank’s steady hand with consent solicitations and tender offers was welcomed by its clients in the past year, as multiple sources of volatility forced CFOs to rethink their funding approach. But it is only going to become more important in coming months, as the fear of rising rates pushes borrowers to lock in low fixed-rate yields for longer — or forces them to loosen covenant packages.
DBS is not just limited to DCM and ECM. It advised on various M&A deals, including Singapore Airlines' S$1.1 billion privatisation of Tiger Airways, CITIC Private Equity’s S$1.4 billion acquisition of Biosensors International and Baring Private Equity’s S$450 million takeover of Interplex.
DBS’s breadth made the firm an obvious candidate for this award. But its ability to execute a range of deals in sometimes trying circumstances gave it the win.
BEST COMMERCIAL BANK
There are few commercial banks in Asia that can compete with the might of HSBC.
The bank has branches in 19 countries in Asia Pacific, and handled 11.7% of Hong Kong trade as of August 2016. It relies on Chinese clients for a large chunk of its revenue, but despite what some rivals claim, that should not be seen as a bad thing. China is, after all, the country every bank wants to get closer to — and HSBC’s branch network in Southeast Asia proves it has not put all of its eggs in one basket.
It is clear how essential Asia as a whole is to the bank. HSBC’s Commercial Banking team in Asia Pacific made US$4.5 billion in profit before tax in 2015, which represented 56% of all Commercial Banking profits globally – up from 53% in the previous year. In the first half of 2016, two-thirds of the entire HSBC Group’s adjusted profit before tax came from Asia, up from 62% in the same period a year earlier.
HSBC’s commercial banking operation does not exist in a vacuum. For years, the bank has been putting emphasis on greater collaboration between the commercial bank and the global banking and markets team, run by Gordon French.
That has paid dividends for several years, and enabled some $6 billion of business synergy revenue globally for HSBC last year, the bank claims. In Asia, the bank is able to emphasise to its core clients that it can provide the full-suite of services, from trade financing and cash management to an IPO or a leverage loan.
It has not been plain sailing for HSBC or for any foreign commercial bank in Asia. Cheaper onshore financing prompted many Chinese corporations to stick to domestic funding markets in the latter half of the year. The expected rise in US interest rates will only exacerbate that.
This puts HSBC at risk more than some of its rivals in part because it is so strong in China. But overall, Chinese banks and companies are still increasingly going out to the world — and they are often asking HSBC to escort them.
Stuart Tait was given the job of running the huge Asia Pacific commercial banking operation in the middle of the year, having previously been HSBC’s London-based global head of trade and receivables finance. The bank has moved some senior people into the commercial bank to support him.
Wallace Lam is perhaps the most high-profile move. The former Asia Pacific head of high yield capital markets and CMB debt origination, who sat in the GBM team, has now moved to Shanghai with the commercial bank. He has become head of client coverage in China.
These steps show that HSBC is not planning to lose any steam with its plan to improve collaboration between GBM and the commercial bank. That’s a smart move, but the stand-alone value of the commercial bank should not be overlooked. After all, this is the best commercial bank in the region.
BEST EQUITY HOUSE
Morgan Stanley was the unanimous pick for best equity house among the FinanceAsia judges after the US investment bank demonstrated outstanding dealmaking capabilities in a year of sluggish overall deal flow.
Asia’s equity deal volume was down 60% year-on-year, but Morgan Stanley remained unfazed — managing the impressive feat of boosting its deal volumes despite the shrinking market. The bank raised $14.4 billion from 49 deals during the award period, ranking first among all non-Chinese investment banks, according to Dealogic.
Unlike last year when the league table was tightly contested by several banks, Morgan Stanley took an unchallengeable lead in 2016 with a 5.6% share in Asia ex-Japan ECM, 47% higher than the second-best foreign bank in the category.
The US bank’s achievement was highlighted by its ability to raise equity for its Chinese clients in a year when investors and economists were increasingly raising questions about China’s growth potential. It was one of the joint sponsors for Postal Saving Bank of China’s $7.4 billion IPO, the world’s largest in 2016.
But what really made Morgan Stanley stand out was its ability to deliver follow-on offerings in a year when there were much fewer sizable secondary market transactions. The US bank was awarded lucrative underwriting fees for being one of the two banks on Softbank’s $10 billion monetisation of Alibaba, the world’s largest equity deal in 2016 — and FinanceAsia’s best secondary offering of the year.
It also dominated secondary offerings in Hong Kong by pricing the three largest deals of the year. In April, it helped American Insurance Group sell HK$9.7 billion ($1.25 billion) worth of shares in PICC Property & Casualty. It also sold $1.7 billion worth of WH Group stock on behalf of CDH Investment in two separate follow-on offerings in August and October.
The bank’s achievements were more impressive considering that some of the large foreign investment banks have fallen off the ladder amid fierce competition from mainland investment banks. Morgan Stanley is one of just two non-Chinese investment banks among the top-10 of the Asia ex-Japan ECM league table in 2016. The other is Deutsche Bank.
Morgan Stanley deserves recognition not only for its comprehensive distribution capabilities over the past 12 months, but also its effort to build a sustainable ECM franchise that allowed it to outperform its peers in a difficult year.
BEST BOND HOUSE
Few banks have so dominated a market as HSBC has Asia’s DCM market. The bank has now become used to topping the league tables for dollar, euro and yen transactions for the region, working on everything from debut high yield issues to ever-reliable sovereign transactions.
The bank worked on Asian G3 bonds worth a whopping $120.1 billion in 2016, according to Dealogic, more than 40% above that of Citi, its nearest rival. The US bank gets closer on an apportioned basis, but HSBC’s $21.9 billion of league table credit still puts it 33.9% ahead of its nearest rival.
It was a testament to HSBC’s position in the DCM market that when some bankers pitched for this award, they put emphasis on why HSBC should not win it rather than concentrating on why they should. Some argued that the firm did not work on enough complex transactions. Others claimed that HSBC was too reliant on Chinese clients.
Neither argument bears up under scrutiny. The bank helped ICTSI slash its interest costs while boosting its capital, pulling off a tender and a new issue alongside fellow bookrunners Citi and Standard Chartered. It worked on a raft of alternative tier one deals, brought the region’s first green covered bond, and led from the front with masala transactions.
As for the argument that HSBC relies too much on China? It still tops the league tables when you ignore Chinese issuers.
HSBC impressed in both investment grade and high yield. It also continued to win repeat mandates from clients — at times because it was able to follow one transaction up quickly with another.
Road King’s $450 million 5% deal in August allowed the Chinese developer to slash its borrowing costs. But strong residual demand allowed the company to issue another bond in the same month, raising $500 million through a five non-call three-year note.
HSBC also brought a number of first-time issuers to the market, offering investors a greater selection of credit and industry exposure. It brought debut Chinese insurance companies Ping An Life Insurance and Sunshine Insurance, raising $1.2 billion and $1.5 billion for the companies, respectively.
HSBC impressed because of its skills at structuring complex deals for banks and corporations, its breadth of origination expertise between different countries and sectors, and its deft execution of deals in even the most challenging markets.
BEST M&A HOUSE
There have surely been few better years to be an M&A banker in Asia. The eye-popping rise in Chinese acquisitions offshore has provided a regular source of fee revenues. The huge demand among Japanese buyers for overseas assets has been a welcome supplement. Private equity funds have been in a feeding frenzy. Banks and companies have moved to spin-off non-core assets.
But 2016 was also a particularly difficult year in many ways.
Regulatory and funding risks meant many deals did not cross the finish line. Anbang perhaps got the most headlines when it pulled a $14 billion bid for Starwood Properties, but plenty more deals fell before the last hurdle.
This was a great year to work on the sell-side — making sure you’re still in the room when the bidding is over. That is exactly what Goldman Sachs did.
The firm advised Hong Kong real estate conglomerate Wharf on its sale of fixed line operator Wharf T&T for HK$9.5 billion ($1.22 billion). It advised Bank of East Asia and NWS Holdings on their sale of Tricor for $834 million. It got alongside Syngenta when ChemChina bid $43 billion for the firm.
Some of the deals worked on were transactions that defined the year.
When China’s Midea offered $4.5 billion for German robotics firm Kuka — one of the most talked about examples of Chinese firms turning overseas for technology in 2016 — Goldman Sachs, unsurprisingly, advised the seller.
Goldman proved multiple times in 2016 that it can secure impressive prices for its clients. But it also proved its ability to navigate an increasingly difficult regulatory landscape. For instance, Goldman Sachs advised printer maker Lexmark when it was acquired by a Chinese consortium, helping get the deal approved in multiple jurisdictions.
Goldman Sachs managed to make the most of the Chinese M&A boom, in large part because it lined up with clients in different continents. But when those Chinese clients turned sellers themselves, it was often the US bank they turned to. In so many deals the bank had slots that left their rivals envious. It is hard to argue against the choice of Goldman Sachs as best M&A house in 2016.
BEST GLOBAL PRIVATE BANK
BEST ASIAN PRIVATE BANK
See our previous story for full details of why Goldman Sachs and DBS stood out among private banks in the region.
BEST PROJECT FINANCE HOUSE
State Bank of India
It has been a tough year for Asia’s project finance market. After $75.7 billion of fund-raising in the region last year, volumes shrunk to just $61.5 billion, according to Dealogic data. But one consistency was the bank at the top.
State Bank of India (SBI) faced more competition in 2015, when a wide mix of banks stepped in to help finance Asian projects. Industrial and Commercial Bank of China closed two giant deals,
for MGM China and Yalong River Hydropower. BNP Paribas proved its savvy with a pair of deals worth $4.5 billion. But SBI managed to dwarf the competition, working on 18 deals in 2015 — nine times its nearest rival.
It is a depressing sign of the tepid volumes in 2016 that SBI managed to claim the top of the league table with only four project finance loans, but the bank once again managed to bring some large deals, including a Rp100.97bn ($1.65 billion) loan for Sasan Power’s coal power plant, and a Rp50.9 billion deal for a similar project from Thermal PowerTech.
Arundhati Bhattacharya, chair-managing director of SBI, warned India’s banks earlier in 2016 not to neglect project finance. As Indian banks concentrate more on the retail business over bigger, riskier lending, she warned that India’s need for development should not be overlooked.
It is a fundamental point that needs to be addressed in many Asian countries. Project finance all too often remains little more than a concept, with most markets lacking the competition that would lead to proper risk dispersal.
SBI has long shown its commitment to advancing project finance India. It is a worthy choice for FinanceAsia’s best project finance house in Asia.
BEST ISLAMIC FINANCE HOUSE
It should perhaps come as little surprise that CIMB snatched the best Islamic finance house award back from HSBC, which grabbed the crown in 2015..
The greater reliance on domestic markets by Islamic bond issuers this year played right into CIMB’s hands. The liquidity and maturity of the Malaysian market meant the bank could close deals worth $4.95 billion, according to Dealogic, more than four times the volumes achieved by its London-based rival.
But CIMB can lay claim to much more than just being in the right place at the right time. The bank looked well beyond its domestic market in 2016, closing a $2.5 billion sukuk for the Republic of Indonesia and a rupiah deal for Indosat.
It also brought foreign issuers to the local market. Not many Chinese property companies have adopted the shariah compliant format for bond issuance, but Country Garden did just that with a RM115 million deal.
CIMB Islamic also impressed with its loan business, arranging a variety of ringgit deals as well as some small loans in other currencies. As well as bringing Dialog LNG to the dollar loan market, the bank also closed an Australian dollar loan for pension fund KWAP and a sterling loan for Trident Place Investment.
The bread-and-butter business of any Islamic finance corporate banking house is bringing shariah-complaint bonds and loans to corporations. But CIMB’s ability to close an array of Islamic equity transactions certainly helped it stand out from the crowd.
CIMB Islamic worked on shariah-compliant block trades in Yinson, IHH Healthcare and Tenaga Nasional during our awards period, proving its ability to match Islamic sellers and investors across different asset classes. This diversity should perhaps come as little surprise given its impressive consumer branch network. CIMB already has a firm understanding of both sides of the market.
But bringing investors and issuers together is not always easy, requiring a difficult and often thankless juggling act between competing interests. CIMB proved that it was up to the task.
BEST LAW FIRM
It was the year of M&A. Chinese outbound acquisitions dominated discussions among market participants and ensured a steady flow of fee revenues for bankers and lawyers. In this context, it was hard to overlook Davis Polk’s claim to be the stand-out law firm in 2016.
The firm advised Syngenta on its proposed $43 billion acquisition by ChemChina, a landmark deal that will set a new record for Chinese outbound M&A as long as it can clear the last regulatory hurdles. It helped advise China Resources Beer on a $1.6 billion acquisition of AB InBev’s 49% stake in China Resources Snow Breweries.
But the firm did not just concentrate on deals involving Chinese companies. It advised British chip designer ARM on its acquisition by Softbank. In fact it worked on enough deals to push itself to top of the league table for Asian M&A by the time our awards period was over.
That was an impressive feat for a firm that tries hard to navigate across different markets. Despite its strong performance in M&A — and amid aggressive competition among law firms for capital market business — Davis Polk still managed to impress in the equity and debt capital markets.
In equities, Postal Savings Bank of China’s mammoth $7.4 billion Hong Kong IPO was surely the deal most ECM lawyers would have wanted to win. Davis Polk did just that. It also advised on IPOs by Orient Securities, Yihai International and ICICI Prudential. Whether straight equity or equity-linked, Davis Polk’s team was near the top.
The firm also impressed on the bond side, winning slots on a multitude of Asian high-yield bonds despite scarce deal flow in the market. It also brought its skills to bear in helping companies navigate liability management exercises, as well as winning several investment grade bonds.
BORROWER OF THE YEAR
It is a clear sign of how well-regarded DBS is by global investors that when it turned to the bank capital market in 2016 it set a record low coupon that is likely to last for many years to come.
The bank made the most of a low-interest-rate environment to raise $750 million of additional tier one capital in August, making its debut in the format. The perpetual non-call five deal was pitched at 4%, but by final pricing, that had been pushed down to 3.6%. It was the lowest coupon ever paid on an AT1 deal.
Can this be beaten any time soon? Bankers think it is unlikely. US interest rates now appear on their way up and, in any case, few borrowers have the drawing power of DBS. The bank’s funding team appear to have tapped the market at just the right time, with just the right structure.
That was even more impressive given the headlines around Singapore’s oil and gas sector, to which DBS has lent heavily. Piyush Gupta, the bank’s CEO, has assured investors that DBS’s exposure to the sector is limited — and the bank has made sizeable credit provisions to calm nerves — but it was an open question how much investors would look past the rising default risk of Singapore’s oil and gas service companies.
The answer was decisive. DBS had the strong balance sheet and low leverage to ensure investors passed off the oil and gas issues as little more than a sideshow to the story of a bank that has positioned itself as one of the strongest in the world.
Singaporean bank capital regulations are more investor-friendly than those in Europe, which certainly helped DBS to get away with such a low coupon. Unlike in Europe, Singaporean alternative tier one deals count as equity on a bank’s balance sheet and there are no specific write-downs if the bank’s capital falls below certain triggers.
Full or partial write-down is at the discretion of the Monetary Authority of Singapore. Interest payments are also non cumulative, with no limit on the number of times DBS can opt to suspend coupon payments.
DBS was also helped by the fact that it had a high capital ratio already, much like its domestic rivals. Before the deal was launched, DBS had the second highest capital adequacy ratio of Singapore’s three biggest banks, at 16.3% as of the end of June, and a tier one ratio of 14.4%. OCBC has a tier one ratio of 15.5% and UOB 13.2%.
However, Moody’s placed Singaporean bank ratings on negative outlook in June, citing deteriorating asset quality largely because of problems relating to delinquent oil and gas loans. That factor impinged on DBS’s second quarter results, which showed a 5.95% slide in net profits to S$1.05 billion ($769 million) mainly thanks to a write-off relating to the bank’s holdings in oil services firm Swiber. But it clearly did not impact demand.
The bookrunners were able to build a final order book of $6.5 billion from 280 accounts. In the end, that meant that despite pricing the tightest deal ever in the AT1 space, DBS saw its bonds trade tighter in the secondary market.
That was not the only bond DBS sold in 2016. It raised A$750 million ($547.4 million) from an Australian dollar covered bond, and turned to Hong Kong dollars and offshore renminbi investors for capital.
But it is the Singaporean bank’s AT1 deal — a deal that appeared perfectly timed in the context of rising interest rates — that will be remembered for years to come. For that alone, DBS is a worthy choice for borrower of the year.
This article has been corrected to fix HSBC Commercial Bank's contribution to the group