HSF bolsters Southeast Asian practice with M&A partner

Nonnabhat (Niab) Paiboon has joined the corporate practice in Bangkok, from Allen & Overy. The HSF team speaks to FA about where they see an acceleration of investment activity in the region.

London-headquartered law firm, Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF) announced on Thursday (September 01) the appointment of corporate partner, Nonnabhat (Niab) Paiboon, to its base in Bangkok. Commencing her role on August 24, Paiboon brings to the firm experience in complex cross-border M&A, and her appointment forms part of the firm’s ongoing expansion across Southeast Asia.

Paiboon joins HSF from Allen & Overy, where she spent over 12 years working across Bangkok, London and Singapore.  Highlights from her tenure include advising Engie Global Developments on the divestment of its entire 69.1% stake in Thai power player, Glow Energy; as well as aiding Tesco Plc on its business sale to Thailand-headquartered CP Group in 2020, which marked the largest-ever corporate acquisition in the market.

Discussing the landmark CP Group transaction with FinanceAsia, Paiboon shared, “It signified the shift of many of Asia's corporate giants to effectively consolidating these types of business as they mature. You see that in other sectors too, as local champions reclaim and integrate businesses and assets as part of local or regional expansion plans.”

Adding extra expertise and capacity to the firm’s Southeast Asia corporate team which is led by partner, Mark Robinson, Paiboon will also work closely with the wider Asian corporate practice, which is overseen by Graeme Preston following his promotion to an expanded leadership post in May this year.

Including Paiboon’s appointment, the HSF Southeast Asian corporate team comprises 11 partners across Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta and Singapore, plus another nine transactional partners at associated firms in the region, a spokesperson for HSF told FA. Paiboon’s immediate priorities will be integrating with these teams and the client base, the contact added, confirming that she will be fully onboard from November 14.

“Tech remains a huge bet”

The HSF team is bullish on M&A activity across the region, in spite of protracted market uncertainty.

Elaborating on this point, Preston shared with FA, “Investment uncertainty elsewhere is not as evident in the Southeast Asia market. This has been driven by reshoring of manufacturing into Southeast Asia, plenty of attractive targets for private capital in the tech, fintech and consumer goods sectors, and post-pandemic acceleration in both digitalisation, infrastructure and energy transition.”

“Tech remains a huge bet – from built infrastructure, such as data centres and telecoms assets, to online and digital plays,” Singapore-based co-sector lead partner for global TMT, Mark Robinson, added. “With huge populations, emerging economies, high adoption rates, and the limitations of existing technical infrastructure, the opportunities in Southeast Asia are enormous.”

However, Robinson cautioned that while dry powder abounds, it is being overseen by investment committees and boards that are more attuned to the recent increase in global risk, and that this may reduce access to capital.

“A realistic approach to valuation is important,” he said. “Caution will play a part with Southeast Asian corporates and international investors. And it's still important to have a proven and funded business model and trajectory for investment, development and return, regardless of the scale of investment.”    

Hidden from headwinds

Singapore-based private capital-focussed corporate partner, Jamie McLaren sees opportunity in Indonesia, which he said remains a huge focus for investors across all sectors given the size of the market and improvements in its investment regime. Meanwhile, India, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand are also witnessing increased activity, he explained. 

“The geopolitical and financial headwinds have been less pronounced in these markets. Tech, digital and other infrastructure, and energy, particularly renewables, as well as healthcare and life sciences, remain very active due to increasing demand and overall limitations on supply,” he told FA.

With regard to the public markets, he said, “With mid-stage investments still attractively priced and the region's exchanges offering good exit returns, there is a healthy interest in realistically priced assets with local and regional potential for growth or other opportunities globally.”

Dual qualified in Thailand, England and Wales, Paiboon’s appointment follows other recent additions to the HSF team, including that of Xavier Amadei to the capital markets team in Singapore in February and a series of promotions.

Speaking to FA about what excites her most about being active in the Southeast Asian region, Paiboon shared, “It’s the sheer variety of opportunities and expertise. The region benefits greatly from the variety of investment sources but also an advisory community that is now both local and international, and highly experienced. Over recent years, advisors have built talented local teams with global expertise and deep regional or country roots. That's also contributing to the region's acceleration.”


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