Celebrating excellence

FinanceAsia Country Awards 2019 why they won, Part 3

We are setting out the rationale for the choices made in our Country Awards for Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam.

In May, FinanceAsia named the winners of its annual Country Awards. Today, we present the rationale for our decisions for Singapore, Sri Lanka, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam. 

As ever, the competition was extremely tight, with numerous financial institutions proving their resilience in the face of volatile financial markets and a more strenuous regulatory environment.

This year, FinanceAsia also decided to establish an editorial advisory board to incorporate an element of peer review for the first time. So in addition to congratulating the winners, the editors would also like to thank the board members for their invaluable advice on the banks, brokers and law firms that were shortlisted and then selected.

Members of the editorial advisory board comprise:

Kalpana Desai – non-executive director at Janus Henderson; former chief executive Macquarie Capital Asia and head of Asia Pacific M&A at Bank of America Merrill Lynch 

Terry Mahony – deputy chairman VinaCapital; former CIO emerging markets TCW

Sanjiv Misra – chairman Apollo Global Management Asia Pacific Advisory Board; president Phoenix Advisers; former head of Asia Pacific investment banking and corporate banking Citi

David Morton – advisor Helsinki Foundation Asia Pacific; former Asia Pacific head of corporate, financials and multinationals banking HSBC

Winners of our Country Awards will be honoured at FinanceAsia's gala dinner in Hong Kong on June 27.

You can also find out more about our judging criteria for the domestic and foreign categories. 

 

BEST BANK, BEST INVESTMENT BANK, BEST DCM HOUSE, BEST ECM HOUSE, BEST BROKER, BEST PRIVATE BANK: DBS

DBS celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2018 and from FinanceAsia’s perspective the bank provides a shining example of how and why Singapore is wealthier and more internationally connected than any other Southeast Asian country. Once again, it has also swept up all of the banking awards on offer this year in the Lion City. 

What better way for the bank to cap its jubilee year than to notch up record profits. During 2018, DBS Bank’s net profit rose 28% to S$5.63 billion ($4.12 billion). It also managed to achieve a decade-high return on equity (ROE) of 12.1%. Bank officials believe it can continue to maintain this level.

They also forecast that the bank will be able to bring its cost of risk (COR) ratio down to 40% over the medium term after a rise to 43.78% from 42.34% during 2018, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence data. Bank officials attribute this rise to additional spending on the bank’s anniversary celebrations and the integration of ANZ’s retail and wealth management operations following the completion of the acquisition early in 2018.

But the longer-term driving force of DBS Bank’s declining COR is digitisation, which it wants to make a seamless and invisible part of its customers’ lives. It is the prime reason why the bank changed its branding last year to “live more, bank less.”

The group has rolled out 350 application programming interfaces (APIs) and sees its smartphone app mutating into a lifestyle as much as a payments platform.

DBS Bank’s achievements are reflected in its AA-/Aa1 credit rating. This provides the bedrock from which its private banking operations are expanding extremely rapidly.

The bank has a higher rating than almost all of its much longer-established international rivals, which is a carrot to lure safety-conscious tycoons away from them. During 2018, the group’s overall wealth management income rose 26% to a new high of S$2.66 billion ($1.95 billion), with assets under management (AUM) growing 7% to S$220 billion ($161 billion).

Private banking currently accounts for one fifth of group income but its head believes that it could easily account for one third over the coming decade.

Two major trends are driving wealth creation in Singapore and DBS aims to capture both.
Firstly, the globally connected and extremely safe city state is a natural home for a family office. Then there is Asia’s intergenerational wealth transfer as first-generation tycoons pass the baton onto the second.

DBS sees opportunities across the wealth spectrum and it also aims to make its clients more environmentally aware in line with its own green ethos. As such, officials say they were particularly pleased that a debut structured note based on environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria raised five times more than they were expecting last year to close at the $80 million level.

Its investment banking arm has also been at the forefront of green finance. During FinanceAsia’s awards period, it oversaw two landmark offerings: a $580 million 15 non-call eight-year project bond for Star Energy Geothermal, which represented Indonesia’s first corporate green bond, and a €500 million ($562 million) five-year social covered bond by Korea Housing Finance Corp, the first of its kind in Asia.

In the domestic bond market, DBS continues to dominate the league tables. In 2018, it also helped to drive two new trends.

First, there was Temasek’s S$500 million ($365.9 million) bond, which incorporated a public offer for retail investors. We made this offering our local currency bond deal of the year in our 2018 Annual Achievement Awards. The deal was an important one for Singapore after a difficult few years marked by defaults across the offshore oil and gas sector, which have caused widespread pain to both high-net-worth and retail investors.

And then there was the bond issued by another government-linked company: Land Transport Authority (LTA). Under DBS’s guidance, it helped to steer the offering in a new direction by reintroducing book building into the issue process for Singapore’s Public Utility Boards.

On the M&A front DBS is fairly unusual in that it only banks its own clients. This means it is less fee-oriented and more interested in connectivity across its wider platform.

Finally on the equity side, DBS also continues to prove that its main aim is to bring the world to Singapore. After helping to establish a domestic real estate investment trust (Reit) sector on the Singapore Exchange (SGX), DBS has spent the past couple years developing an international one. US companies such as KBS Realty Advisors and Eagle Hospitality Trust are among those hoping to use Singapore as a springboard to build up their Asian portfolios and investor bases.

DBS has a balanced investment banking business, backed by its broking arm DBS Vickers. This is undergoing a transformation, with the retail broking business being incorporated into the retail operations of the bank.

The bank’s digital transformation is also evident in this part of the business. Its iWealth app has brought a private banking style offering to a far wider customer base and is available to clients with DBS Treasures accounts (S$350,000 assets and above) as well those with DBS Treasures Private Clients and DBS Private Bank accounts.

The next step on the bank’s digital journey will be expanding its new DBS digiPortolio product, which allows investors access to up to 1,300 global securities.

BEST INTERNATIONAL BANK: CITI

It marks a round half dozen for Citi as it wins the award for Best Bank in Singapore for the sixth year in a row. It was another strong year for the bank in terms of profitability, deal flow and client acquisition.

Net profits increased by 13.2% to S$606 million ($443 million), demonstrating that 2017’s 22% surge was not a one-off following the industry’s troubled period managing the fallout from NPLs in the offshore oil and gas sector.

The US bank’s asset base in Singapore is so large that it is designated a Domestically Systemically Important Bank (D-SIB) by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS).

One example is Citi’s securities services assets under custody in Singapore. These reached $249 billion at the end of 2018, making Citi the largest international securities provider in the Lion City with over 250 employees. (Citi’s global assets totalled $1.92 trillion in 2018).

In Singapore, Citi offers a comprehensive range of securities services for its clients; it clears, settles, safekeeps, measures, reports, enriches and collateralises across multiple asset classes including equities, fixed income, funds, derivatives and currencies.

Citi also plays a key role in the foreign exchange and private banking sectors; both major industries for the Southeast Asian financial hub.

Citi ranks as one of the top-five foreign exchange traders in Singapore and one of the top-three in the Asia-Pacific region excluding Japan, based on the 2018 Greenwich survey. It has a client wallet share of 30% in the Singapore corporate foreign exchange space, based on 53 Singapore-domiciled clients in the 2018 Coalition survey results.

In 2018, commercial banking was one of the main profit drivers for the overall group, with net income up 16% in 2018 compared to 10% in 2017. The bank reports that its cash, loans and foreign exchange business each grew by between 25% and 26%.

This March, Citi also announced that it would establish a foreign exchange pricing and trading engine in Singapore, which is expected to go live in the fourth quarter. Supported by the MAS, this electronic platform will boost Singapore as a liquidity hub for Asia. Citi is equipped to provide clients with access to more than 650 currencies and over 80 local-market trading desks.

Citi Private Bank, meanwhile, is also growing quickly in line with the overall industry in the region. In Singapore, its private banking revenue rose by 10% in 2018, while its private banking headcount grew by the same amount.

On the consumer side, Citi continues to be a leader in digitisation and in November 2018, it re-launched its mobile app. This benefits from the bank’s global footprint and has Citi World Privileges embedded inside it, giving clients access to 11,000 deals in 90 countries.

Overall, the retail bank continues to sustain its growth trajectory, with its affluent client base growing by 12% during 2018 and net new money by 9%.

The bank has also had a consistently strong investment banking platform in Singapore, regularly ranking towards the top of the league tables.

During the awards period, Citi led a number of notable deals. On the DCM side, it was a joint bookrunner on Temasek’s first Reg S bond since 2012, while on the ECM side it was at the helm of a number of Reit offerings. This included its role as joint global co-ordinator of a $274 million placement for Mapletree Logistics Trust and a $356 million placement and preferential offering for Frasers Logistics Trust.

It was also active in the M&A space. Here one of its standout deals was its advisory work for Singapore Technologies Engineering on its approximately $630 million acquisition of General Electric’s MRA Systems.

BEST INTERNATIONAL INVESTMENT BANK: Credit Suisse

This award was a fairly tough one to call because three banks stood out. In addition to Credit Suisse, both Citi and JP Morgan had strong years executing benchmark deals across ECM, DCM and M&A.

JP Morgan, for example, was the buy-side advisor for the biggest M&A deal announced during the period: CapitaLand’s $8.06 billion acquisition of Ascendas and Singbridge from Temasek. The US bank also led an S$452.1 million ($328 million) follow-on for Ascendas Reit and a $1.2 billion bond deal for United Overseas Bank (UOB), which Citi and Credit Suisse were also on.

What tipped the award in Credit Suisse’s favour was the fact that it was not only strong in Singapore’s capital markets, but also acted on a series of benchmark transactions for Singaporean entities around the rest of the region as well. Its work for the likes of GIC and Temasek, one of the region’s most demanding clients, in turn, emphasises just how strong its investment banking platform has become across Asia as a whole.

Examples of deals for these clients include Credit Suisse’s role advising GIC on its $853 million strategic investment in Vietnam’s Vinhomes and Vnd6.2 trillion ($265 million) investment in Vietcombank alongside Mizuho. Where Temasek is concerned, Credit Suisse was the advisor to Fullerton Financial Holdings on the $5.9 billion staggered divestment of its 73.8% stake in Bank Danamon to MUFG and also led a W895 billion ($756 million) block of shares the sovereign wealth fund owned in South Korea’s Celltrion.

In Singapore itself, Credit Suisse was all over the ECM, DCM and M&A league tables.

Its M&A deals included the S$1.26 billion ($922 million) acquisition of M1 by Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) and Keppel Corp. Credit Suisse advised SPH on the buyout of Singapore’s third largest mobile phone company.

This was one of two take-private deals in Singapore it executed during the review period. The other was an S$424 million ($310 million) unconditional mandatory cash offer for Cityneon Holdings, a Singapore event and exhibition company.

IPOs were few and far between in Singapore during 2018. The largest deal of the year for Sasseur Reit, fell just outside of FinanceAsia’s awards period.

Instead, Credit Suisse led Thomson Medical Group’s reverse takeover of Rowsley in April 2018. This represented the largest reverse takeover in the healthcare sector across Southeast Asia since 2012.

Credit Suisse also led the largest rights issue in Singapore in 2018 too,namely the S$588 million ($430 million) offering by OUE Commercial REIT.

Finally in DCM, the Swiss Bank was active in the domestic and G3 bond markets for Singaporean borrowers. In April 2018, for instance, it was a bookrunner on Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation’s (OCBC) S$1 billion ($732 million) Additional Tier 1 (AT1) in April 2018 and UOB’s dollar-denominated fixed and floating issue.

BEST LAW FIRM: WongPartnership

It is testament to Singapore’s vibrancy as a capital-raising centre that this award was so difficult to judge. The Lion City has a handful of law firms that are on all of the landmark offerings, often together.

In the end it came down to the one that was right at the heart of the biggest financing trends of the year: WongPartnership.

The law firm’s M&A practice, in particular, was a dominant force; the structuring skills of its 20 partners and 40 associates very much in evidence.

Two big market trends were Reit mergers and distressed borrowers.

In the latter case, one company has been topping up many law firms’ fee pools for some years already: Noble Group. WongPartnership has been Singapore counsel for its ad hoc group of senior creditors, who spent much of 2018 locked in battle with the commodity trader’s equity holders over the group’s restructuring plan.

Another major client is water company Hyflux, which underwent a restructuring of its S$3 billion ($2.2 billion) debt. Among the unique aspects of this was a key asset owned by a group entity that was precluded from obtaining protection under Singapore’s restructuring laws because it holds an electricity generation license.

And then there was ESR-REIT’s merger with Viva Industrial Trust, which was FinanceAsia’s Singapore deal of the year in our 2018 Achievement Awards. This merger of equals was more complicated than it appeared on the surface because it was unprecedented. That meant it not only involved additional legal work but also paved the way for other mergers within the Reit sector.

WongPartnership acted for ESR-REIT, while Rajah & Tann acted for Viva. Together the two firms needed to ensure that the courts would allow a merger by way of a trust scheme of arrangement. They also had to unpick their way through the conflicts of interest arising from the common shareholdings of the two listed entities.

The biggest announced merger during the awards period was CapitaLand’s proposed S$11 billion ($8.07 billion) acquisition of the Ascendas-Singbridge group of companies from Temasek. On completion, this will make WongPartnership’s client, CapitaLand, the largest diversified property group in Asia.

Other notable M&A deals include the Wheelock Properties delisting, which was complicated by the fact minority shareholders were unhappy with the exit price and Keppel Corp’s privatisation of Keppel Telecommunications & Transportation.

WongPartnership also has a very balanced capital markets business across ECM and DCM. One offering of note here was a $70 million convertible with attached warrants for Sunpower Group.

It was not the largest deal of the year but the law firm says that pricing formula was complex. The deal was also unusual because it wasn’t a straight public equity offering but a private equity deal involving DCP Capital and CDH China.

 

BEST BANK: Shinhan Bank

Last year, Shinhan re-gained its crown as South Korea’s most profitable bank and led the industry on practically every single financial and efficiency metric that FinanceAsia looks at. It was the obvious choice to win this award.

S&P Global Market Intelligence data shows that Shinhan Bank’s net profit jumped 34% in 2018 to W2.28 trillion ($2.07 billion). Nearly every single financial ratio was up.

The bank’s return on average equity (ROAE) increased from 7.75% in 2017 to 9.86% in 2018, while its return on average assets (ROAA) climbed to 0.67% from 0.54%. The bank’s net interest margin (NIM) also moved to 1.74% from 1.67% between 2017 and 2018, while its COR improved from 58.22% to 53.51%.

Its ratio of gross non-performing loans (NPL) to total loans slipped to 0.42% from 0.52%.

Shinhan beat all of its major rivals on every single major metric with the exception of its NIM where KB Kookmin topped the list on 1.9% in 2018.

The reason for this performance was improving asset quality, better provisioning and steady fee income growth. Interest income was also up 9.4% year-one-year and the bank reported strong growth in SME loans.

The overall Shinhan group has also returned to the expansion trail again after a long hiatus. Recent acquisitions include Orange Life Insurance and Asia Trust in South Korea as well as PVFC in Vietnam.

Under Shinhan’s new bank CEO, net profits from overseas business jumped 36.7% year-on-year to W321.5 billion ($10.2 billion). The segment now contributes 14.1% of Shinhan Bank’s net profit and 10.2% of the overall group.

Financial analysts are particularly keen on the move because they believe the international businesses are well diversified and well balanced between developed and developing regions.

BEST INVESTMENT BANK, BEST ECM HOUSE: NH Investment & Securities

It ended the awards period at the top of Dealogic’s ECM league tables and second on its DCM one. This may have provided some small comfort to the securities group after having to grapple with an immensely difficult fundraising environment in 2018.

The Kospi Index began plummeting at the beginning of 2018 and after a short respite in early 2019 it resumed a downward slide again this April. One deal after another was postponed or pulled.

The unfavourable market backdrop was then compounded by the actions of the Securities & Futures Commission, which began investigating Samsung Biologics for accounting fraud and tightening up its IPO vetting procedures.

Nevertheless, NH Investment & Securities (NH I&S) still managed to increase its consolidated net profit by 3% to W361 billion ($305 million) during the course of 2018.

Many of South Korea’s largest deals during the awards period had international banks as their lead managers. NH I&S was on all of the landmark deals that did not.

It was lead manager of the largest equity deal during the awards period: a W1.48 trillion ($1.3 billion) follow-on issue for Samsung Heavy in April 2018. In June that year, it also one of the leads on Hyundai Steel’s W245 billion ($230 million) follow-on and Korea Aerospace’s W233 billion ($212.04 million) follow-on.

Over the longer-term one of the most notable developments may be the group’s international push. During the course of the year, NH I&S injected capital into both its Hong Kong and Indonesian entities with a view to ramping up its investment banking operations.

In Indonesia, this generated two small IPOs for PT Sinergi Megah and PT Sriwahana Adityakarta, which raised about $20 million between them.

BEST DCM HOUSE: KB Financial

KB Financial remains in a league of its own within South Korea’s debt capital markets.

As usual, it ended FinanceAsia’s awards period at the top of Dealogic’s DCM leagues after raising nearly 25% more than its nearest rival NH I&S.

It was also a fixture in the G3 bond markets thanks to its parent, which issued a series of landmark transactions in the environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) space during 2018. 

In particular, KB Financial acted as a lead manager on KB Kookmin’s $300 million sustainability bond in October, which represented the first-ever by a South Korean financial institution.

It was back again in January as a lead manager for KB Kookmin’s $450 million Tier 2 subordinated bond. This 10-year bullet deal represented the first-ever Tier 2 offering from Asia Pacific to use a sustainability format.

ESG was also a big theme back home. The format was first introduced in 2013, but it was only in 2018 that it really started to take off.

Domestic issuers raised a total of W4.9 trillion ($4.15 billion) over the course of the year and KB Financial was right at the forefront as a lead manager.

One of the biggest issuers is Korea Housing Finance Corp (KHFC). In March, it began issuing all of its mortgage-backed securities within an ESG framework.

BEST BROKER: Mirae Asset Daewoo

It is South Korea’s largest securities firm by assets and shareholders equity. It is also transitioning from being a traditional securities company to an investment-oriented one with a much larger overseas base.

Both of these developments stood out in 2018 despite the fact that the whole securities industry had to grapple with extremely difficult equity markets at home. The market’s drop and reduction in broking volumes meant that Mirae Asset’s consolidated net profits slipped 10% year-on-year to W456 billion ($385 million).

However, the group is starting to make strong inroads overseas, one of the reasons why it won this award. It reported that its 12 overseas subsidiaries contributed W89.42 billion ($75.6 million) more than double the W38.28 billion ($32.4 million) they reported in 2017.

The South Korean broker is becoming a particularly noticeable presence in Indonesia and Vietnam, which each contributed about 11% of the overseas total. This profit surge is also likely to be just the beginning after the group became the first domestic broker to tap the G3 bond markets, raising $300 million last October to finance its overseas expansion.

In South Korea, it ended the year with a 13% brokerage market share. In its recent ratings review, Standard & Poor’s noted that the group’s wealth management fee income and net interest income has not only been relatively steady at 40% of total net operating profit in recent years but is also about 10 percentage points higher than its peers’ average.
 
BEST PRIVATE BANK: KEB Hana

KEB Hana was the clear winner of this award. It is South Korea’s largest private bank by AUM and it continues to be at the cutting edge of new developments in a country that ranks as Asia’s third largest by number of HNWs.

South Korea’s wealth has always been concentrated in the Seoul metropolitan area. But KEB Hana has begun to diversify into the rest of the country.

During 2018, it launched one of its Club1 premium private banking centres in Deagu, the country’s fourth largest city. These centres are not only designed to dispense financial advice but also relaxation and wellbeing to the bank’s clients. Each one has its own bar, library and parking bays.

KEB has also been at the forefront of digital innovation in a country renowned for its leading edge in robotics and AI. Its parent first launched robo advisors six years ago and the private bank also makes use of them after creating an investor chatbot for clients.

Another initiative revolves around helping clients to diversify overseas. One area it has been putting a lot of focus on is real estate, establishing partnerships with two overseas funds earlier this year.

BEST INTERNATIONAL BANK: Citi

South Korea’s economy recorded its slowest growth rate in six years last year as weak exports continued to weigh on the country known for selling heavy machinery, electronics and communication devices to the world. The highly competitive banking sector also continued to be challenged by rising household debt, which has pushed up non-performing loans and threatens to slow down loan growth in the next few years.

Against such a tricky backdrop, Citi has been switching its focus to affluent clients and high-net-worth individuals. Last year the strategy paid off as its wealth management operations helped to drive the franchise’s growth.

As part of that strategy, Citi has been transforming its business and servicing model to focus on wealth management, credit cards and unsecured personal loans. The bank has been switching from a branch-centric model to a client-centric model by offering customised digital solutions for its customers while gradually cutting its physical exposure to save costs and avoid direct competition with local banks.

Citi’s Korean franchise has improved most of its economic indicators for the 2018 fiscal year, with net income growing 26% year-on-year on top of a 15% jump in 2017. The bank’s return on equity improved a stunning 101 percentage points over 2017, while its return on assets also improved 12 percentage points.

The bank continued to maintain the strongest capital structure among international banks in Korea, with its capital adequacy ratio and common equity tier 1 ratio standing at 18.93% and 18.18%, respectively, as of the end of last year.

BEST INTERNATIONAL INVESTMENT BANK: Morgan Stanley

Morgan Stanley capitalised on its strong relationship with private equity firms and advised on a number of market-defining deals in a year of robust financial sponsor activities out of South Korea.

One of the most notable transactions was Carlyle’s $2.8 billion sale of homegrown security services provider ADT Caps, the country’s second-largest sponsor exit.

It was clear the advisor would find it hard to find a buyer not only because of the large size of the asset but also because Carlyle wanted to fully exit the investment instead of just partially.

Morgan Stanley, which acted as a joint financial advisor to the American private equity firm, was able to put together a competitive auction that included CVC Capital Partners, Singapore’s GIC and Canada’s Brookfield Asset Management, thereby raising the value of the asset for the seller.

ADT Caps was eventually sold to a consortium comprising local conglomerate SK Telecom and Australian financial services firm Macquarie.

Morgan Stanley also acted as sole financial adviser to MBK Partners for the sale of its 59.1% interest in ING Life Korea to Shinhan Financial for $2.1 billion, extending its business relationship with the private equity firm after advising it on the insurer’s IPO in 2017.

Apart from on private equity exits, Morgan Stanley also helped financial sponsors enter Korea. The firm advised Affinity Equity Partners in its pursuit of ServeOne, LG Group’s maintenance, repair and operation business, through a $540 million transaction.

Morgan Stanley’s Korean franchise continues to be under the leadership of managing director Sangwook Cho, who joined the firm in 2005.

 

BEST BANK: Commercial Bank

Commercial Bank’s hold over this category tightened further in 2019.

It does have an increasingly determined rival in the form of National Development Bank (NDB), which is making big strides on its home turf, both in retail and small business lending. But in terms of its profitability, Commercial Bank remains way out in front.

One of the distinguishing events of 2018 was the Sri Lankan government’s decision to grab some of those profits through the introduction of a Debt Repayment Level tax, which kicked in last October. This meant that while Commercial Bank’s pre-tax profits grew by 10.4% to SLRs25.6 billion ($145 million), profits after tax were up a much slimmer 5.81% at SLRs17.5 billion ($99.18 million).

Commercial Bank’s ability to make money in 2018 was unaffected by Sri Lanka’s political din and attempted constitutional coup last autumn. However, the bombs that went off at a cluster of churches this Easter may be a different matter when it comes to 2019 as the ripple effects from the drop-off in tourism reverberate through the economy. 

Prior to this, Commercial Bank had been making great strides forging links with corporate China and its 1.34 billion potential holidaymakers. The bank’s officials say it is in the process of establishing a China desk to serve its corporate customers and build on a two-year relationship with China Development Bank.

It is also making it easier for Chinese citizens to make payments after forging a partnership with Alipay to launch QR codes and one with Tenpay to introduce WeChat Pay. And it has become the first bank in Sri Lanka to issue UnionPay credit and debit cards.

Commercial Bank’s own digital transformation continues apace too. From 570,000 at the end of the last awards period, the number of clients using its mobile banking app has jumped to just shy of 800,000 this time around. By the end of the year, the bank hopes it will reach 900,000.

Commercial Bank also continues to open about five to six branches a year, although it is trying to keep its COR ratio down by minimising their physical footprint. Together with its digital initiatives, this helped to bring its COR down almost five percentage points to 46.17% at the end of 2018, according to data provided by S&P Global Market Intelligence.

Other metrics that improved last year include Commercial Bank’s NIM, which rose to 3.82% from 3.75%.

BEST INVESTMENT BANK: NDB Investment Bank

This is the third year that NDB Investment Bank has won the award and despite the country’s unpromising political backdrop and lack of equity markets activity, it still managed to increase the amount of money it raised for clients by 10%.

During 2018, it completed transactions totaling SLRs60 billion ($34 million) compared with SLRs55 billion ($31 million) the year before.

One of the year’s main trends was the banking sector’s search for additional capital to keep pace with GDP growth and the introduction of IFRS 19. NDB took the lead in this by helping government-owned HDFC Bank to issue the country’s first Additional tier-1 bond.

The 51% government-owned bank raised SLRs1.4 billion ($7.9 million) from the deal, which was priced slightly below existing tier-2 debt.

Another stand out was its role in a $100 million offshore financing for National Savings Bank led by Commerzbank. NDB was a joint manager, marking the first time that a local investment bank has participated in an offshore debt deal.

NDB also arranged a syndicated bridging facility with local banks to address a timing difference between the borrower’s cash requirements and the closure of the offshore syndicated loan.

M&A was dominated by also finance-related transactions in 2018 and NDB took the lead here too. It acted for distressed non-bank lender, City Finance Corp, which was purchased by a consortium of investors in an SLRs1.3 billion ($7.37 million) deal.

However, its biggest deal was Sterling Group Japan’s SLRs1.4 billion ($7.9 million) acquisition of People’s Merchant Finance. NDB worked for Sterling Group to identify a good target for its first foray in Sri Lanka’s financial sector.

In equity markets, there were no IPOs during the awards period, but NDB executed two rights offerings for its parent and RIL Property. Together the two deals raised SLRs5.4 billion ($30.61 million).

BEST BROKER: CT CLSA

FinanceAsia found this award just as difficult to decide in 2019 as it did in 2018.

The runner up, Asia Securities, has well-regarded research and its energetic chief executive, Dumith Fernando, has spent much of the past year laying the foundations for a much bigger operation after establishing an investment banking partnership with Commercial Bank and a broking one with Exotix Capital, recently rebranded as Tellimer.

But there is no denying that CT CLSA had a dominant brokerage market share throughout the whole of the awards period. This is partly a testament to its partnership with CLSA, which has a 25% stake and long-standing roots in Sri Lanka, which have enabled it to build up a strong roster of clients.

This was amply demonstrated by its biggest trade, or rather trades, of the year, involving Sri Lanka’s largest conglomerate, John Keells.

The seller wasn’t Malaysian sovereign wealth fund Khazanah, which has been looking to sell its 10% stake in the firm for some time. Rather it was all about an individual buyer, who over the course of about five months built up a 10% stake in John Keells, which in turn accounted for nearly half of CT CLSA’s turnover during 2018.

That helped CT CLSA to exert an even more dominant grip than normal over the market share rankings on the Colombo Stock Exchange based on total turnover. During the awards period, it had an overall 24.68% market share and accounted for 12.74% of local activity and 39.04% of foreign activity.

In the year to March-end 2019, the split in activity was 89.74% institutional and 10.26% retail. Of CT CLSA’s institutional business, 71.73% were international and 18.01% local.

CT CLSA has always had a strong hold on the biggest foreign fund flows into Sri Lanka and that doesn’t show much sign of changing. In 2018, CT CLSA’s annual Sri Lankan conference in Colombo attracted 25 foreign institutional investors. It also took representatives of about half a dozen of the country’s top companies to CLSA’s annual conference in Hong Kong.

BEST INTERNATIONAL BANK: HSBC

HSBC stands in a competition of one when it comes to Best Bank in Sri Lanka.

As we repeatedly highlight each year, it has been in the country for a very long time and is a very visible presence across both consumer and corporate banking. It is also back on the growth path again.

This was reflected in a 10% jump in assets from SLRs434.9 billion ($2.6 billion) in 2017 to SLRs477 billion ($2.8 billion) in 2018. That growth was also evenly balanced across different business segments.

For example, HSBC increased its deposits by 14% year-on-year to SLRs205.87 billion ($1.12 billion) while total loans were 26% higher at SLRs255.8 billion ($1.4 billion).

This helped revenues to rise 2% to SLRs23.64 billion ($144.16 million). Operating income came in at SLRs12.25 billion ($74.74 million).

HSBC is in a uniquely strong position to leverage its longstanding local corporate relationships with its equally long-standing ones in China. It was the first bank to establish a China desk to facilitate One Belt One Road investments and to manage China Inc’s cash management and trade finance requirements.

The bank also has a very tight relationship with the government. It might be unlucky for some, but HSBC has been a joint global co-ordinator on all 13 of the sovereign’s dollar-denominated bond offerings since it started its borrowing programme in 2007.

Its advice was particularly pertinent in 2019 when the government came to the market with a $2.4 billion offering in March. The B2/B/B credit caught a perfect window towards the end of an emerging market bond rally to issue five-year and 10-year paper.

HSBC Sri Lanka was also the sole arranger and lender on a $79.8 million Sinosure-supported facility for the government to purchase nine new passenger locomotives in April 2018. The supplier of the diesel trains was Dongfang Electric Corp.

Then HSBC was back again in March 2019 with another $72 million Sinosure facility to help the government upgrade its public healthcare facilities.

HSBC has been actively promoting the country as well after holding a conference in Colombo called ASEAN – Sri Lanka’s Next Big Opportunity. It also hosted 100 corporate clients to support their digital transformation at an event titled ERP and Technology.

 

BEST BANK, BEST PRIVATE BANK: CTBC Bank

CTBC Bank is Taiwan’s most profitable bank and its most international. It is also a serial winner of our annual awards.

This year, E.Sun Bank came a much closer second after its net profit improved by almost a fifth year-on-year. E.Sun Bank also displays a raft of impressive metrics including an industry-leading ROE of 11.23%, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence data.

But what makes CTBC so unique and why it is our Best Bank once again is how it is a mirror image of Taiwan itself and, particularly, the country’s role within global supply chains. As such, foreign-currency loans have always been an important driving force for CTBC and the bank predicts that its international business will contribute more than 50% of bank profits by 2023, up from 35% currently.

Over the past decade that growth has come mainly from China. But over the next 10 years bank officials believe that it will be Southeast Asia that will lead the way as companies re-configure their supply chains in light of the Sino-US trade war.

That is already evident in CTBC’s results. Its Southeast Asian loan book, for instance, grew by 20% during 2018.

Bank officials believe CTBC’s Southeast Asian profits will jump from 6% of the total in 2018 to 16% by 2023, compared with its China earnings, which they expect to see inching up to 18% from 15% over the same period.

CTBC’s large foreign-currency loan book meant that it was in a strong position to benefit from rising US interest rates during 2018. The bank’s net interest income registered growth of 10% over the course of the financial year. This also helped the bank to expand its NIM to 1.41% from 1.37% in 2017.

The other area where CTBC is extremely dominant is non-interest income. In 2018, it recorded double the level of its nearest rival Cathay United Bank.

Taiwanese banks all have fairly high CORs but CTBC is working hard to improve its ratio by ramping up efficiency gains through its digital initiatives. User engagement is continuing to grow, with mobile users rising by a third to 2.45 million during 2018.

CTBC also has a very dominant ATM market share, which stood at 33.8% at the end of 2018 compared with 13.2% for second-placed Taishin Bank.

CTBC has also consolidated its hold over the award for Best Private Bank. At the end of 2018, it held AUM of $129 billion and reported an industry leading NT$30 billion ($959 million) in net profits.

The bank is able to stay ahead of the trends because its annual High New Worth Report, which it publishes in association with PwC, is so good at unpicking them. One key finding in recent years has been how keen Taiwanese entrepreneurs are to put succession planning in place.

In response, CTBC established what it calls family financial clinics. Over the past five years, its family member AUM has grown by a compound annual growth rate of 14%.

Another trend is the need for growing segmentation among its wealth buckets. In 2018, this prompted CTBC to set up a new bucket for the super wealthy with assets of more than NT$150 million ($4.8 million) called Private Privilege.

And then there is the need to provide more tailor-made products for them. Bank officials say that about 30% of portfolios are now personalised for the highest-ranking customers. It has also introduced a wider range of products to suit them including more alternatives such as private equity and hedge funds.

BEST INVESTMENT BANK, BEST ECM HOUSE, BEST BROKER: Yuanta Securities

This was very much Yuanta’s year and that was hardly surprising given that it has an equally solid investment banking business and securities operation that work hand-in-hand to create a stronger platform overall.

Yuanta ended the awards period at the top of the ECM league tables by some margin, recording an accredited volume of NT$29.03 billion ($921.27 million) from 19 issues, according to Bloomberg.

It was, for example, the sole lead manager of an NT$6 billion ($164.68 million) convertible bond for the world’s largest original design manufacturer company, Ennoconn, in February 2019. This was an example of reacting according to market conditions, since the deal was structured as an equity-linked offering rather than a follow-on deal because of depressed market sentiment as a result of the Sino-US trade dispute.

Yuanta was also one of the lead managers of the largest IPO of the year, the NT$5.3 billion ($166 million) flotation of the data centre equipment provider Wiwynn.

The biggest issuer of the year was Taiwan Cement Corp (TCC), which embarked on a NT$40 billion ($1.28 billion) fundraising plan to expand overseas and transform itself into a green services provider. The group raised nearly $1 billion offshore by issuing depositary receipts and a convertible bond, while Yuanta structured a NT$10 billion ($323 million) onshore preference shares deal.

Yuanta has also consistently been at the top of the domestic advisory league tables and in 2018 its largest deal was the NT$45 billion ($146.45 million) takeover of Chaun-Choung Technology by Japan’s Nidec Corp. Yuanta was sell-side advisor to Chaun-Choung and the controlling Wu family.

But perhaps more interesting was the work it did for antenna component manufacturer Inpaq. Yuanta helped it to find a white knight in the form of Walsin Technology, which purchased a 30.5% stake to prevent rival Yageo Corp from potentially making a bid for it after it built up a mid-teens percentage stake in the open market.

In DCM, Yuanta has been KGI Securities’s main competitor as top house for many years and in this awards period underwrote 68 bonds totaling NT$62.95 billion ($2 billion).

On the broking side, Yuanta continues to have no rival, with the largest retail franchise in Taiwan and 750,000 active clients, accounting for 89.6% of its business.

During 2018, that gave it an 11.88% overall market share, plus a 21.64% share in stock lending, 22.19% in warrants issuance and 34.12% in securities borrowing and lending.

Unsurprisingly, it also has a market-leading 12.65% share of Taiwanese online trading. It puts this down to its new app Mr Yuanta, which was launched in September. Yuanta officials say the app had received 30,000 downloads within the first six months or so. The app makes the most of artificial intelligence and big data to make investing easier for clients and there is Face ID technology to login.

It also has stock-screening functions and makes buy or sell recommendations based on a client’s portfolio or preferences. Yuanta has also partnered with China’s Hithink RoyalFlush Information Network to source financial data for stocks on the Chinese mainland, Hong Kong and the US. 

BEST DCM HOUSE: KGI Securities

This is always a very difficult award to judge because a number of Taiwanese entities split their DCM franchises among separate legal entities.

A good example is Cathay. It has Cathay Securities executing most of its local currency bond issues and Cathay United Bank, which does some local currency deals but is starting to forge a particularly strong presence in the dollar, euro and yen (G3) bond markets. During the awards period, it was the only Taiwanese house, which led offshore deals for banks, corporates and asset management companies.

But there is one house that has strength across the board and that is KGI Securities. It has a leading position in local currency bonds and also foreign currency bonds issued in Taiwan (i.e. Formosa bonds), while internationally it has become an active player in the G3 bond market based out of Hong Kong.

This stands KGI in good stead year in, year out because it means it can shift its business mix in line with market trends. Over the past couple of years, it has needed to adjust, along with the rest of the industry, because of a huge drop in the issuance of Formosa bonds.

In May 2017, the Taiwanese government changed the rules to stop the domestic insurance industry from becoming overly exposed to 30-year deals with short-dated call options. A year later it issued new rules governing exchange-traded funds (ETFs), which dampened market activity even further.

The rules changes have prompted international corporate borrowers to largely stop accessing the Formosa market. But international banks do still remain active and during the awards period, KGI sole-led five offerings for Bank of America, Bank of Montreal, UBS and Bank of Nova Scotia, which tapped the market twice.

It also joint-led 22 Formosa bonds for banks including Maybank, Korea National Oil Corp and QNB Finance.

It also continues to expand its franchise. A good example is KEB Hana’s third Formosa bond deal. On the previous two occasions, the Korean bank had only mandated foreign banks with Taiwan local underwriting licenses as joint lead managers and bookrunners. This time, however, KGI joined them at the same level.

In the local currency bond market, KGI sole-led roughly half a dozen transactions and acted as a manager for 34 more. The largest deal it was involved with was an NT$18 billion ($574 million) four-tranche issue for Taiwan Power in May 2018.

Then there is KGI’s international activity. Taiwanese houses have become a more visible presence in the G3 market particularly for Chinese issues and KGI has been right at the forefront of this trend. During the awards period, it acted on deals for CCB HK branch, CDB Leasing, Shanghai Pudong Development Bank HK, China Merchants Bank HK, Bank of China Macau.

BEST INTERNATIONAL BANK, BEST INTERNATIONAL INVESTMENT BANK: Citi

It is the second year in a row that Citi has snapped up both the awards for Best International Bank and Best International Investment Bank in Taiwan.

While Citi remained the most profitable foreign bank with a pre-tax profit of $432 million last year, it continued to invest in technology and is arguably one of the most digitalised banks in Taiwan.

One of Citi’s new digital offerings launched last year was the Citi PChome Prime cobrand card in partnership with homegrown e-commerce giant PChome. Citi and PChome have joined forces to cross-analysis the behavioural data of online and offline consumers in order to better customise services for card owners.

It is also the first bank in Taiwan to adopt voice biometrics technology, having completed three million authentications thus far.

In investment banking, Citi was the unanimous pick for the award among FinanceAsia’s judges after the bank advised on six of the 14 M&A transactions completed during the review period. Its closest rival advised on just three.

In October, Citi advised Taiwan Cement on a partial acquisition of Oyak’s cement business by setting up a joint venture with the Turkish industrial group. Taiwan Cement agreed to invest $1.1 billion for a 40% stake in the JV, which fully owns Turkey’s largest cement producer by shipments.

That was five months after the US bank advised homegrown electronic components maker Yageo on its NT$22 billion ($740 million) cash acquisition of Pulse Electronics, a US-based company privately held by Oaktree Capital.

These two transactions showcased Citi’s ability to bring together buyers and sellers in cross-border M&A situations and to navigate the complex regulatory hurdles behind them.

Worth noting also is that Citi was a joint arranger in Hon Hai’s $1 billion dual-tranche US dollar bond offering in March this year, the first US dollar bond issue from a Taiwanese company in more than two years.

 


BEST BANK: Siam Commercial Bank

Siam Commercial Bank has been “Going Upside Down” for two years now as Thailand’s largest bank by assets seeks to transform itself into a leaner, more digitally focused institution.

That adversely impacted the bank’s profitability and some of its financial metrics and efficiency ratios during 2018 as it launched aggressive campaigns to sign up new customers and maintain its lead in the Thai banking sector.

SCB was the first bank to lower and waive electronic transaction fees in 2018, for example. And over the course of the year, this helped the number of customers sign up to its digital platform, SCB Easy, to jump by almost 40% to nine million. By the end of 2019, SCB hopes this number will top 12 million.

The bank is in the process of shutting down a large swathe of its branch network, but the retraining and redundancy costs are weighing on its COR. This rose to 46.77% in 2018 from 42.36% in 2017, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence data, but is still within the bank’s guidance to financial analysts.

Bank officials believe 2018 marked the peak and are forecasting that the ratio will improve to the mid-40 range by the end of 2019.

Alongside its digital push, SCB is also trying to boost profitability by moving into unsecured lending and hopes to move from a single-digit percentage market share to a double-digit one over the course of the next few years. The bank believes that it can achieve this without compromising its asset quality because of improved data analytics.

Financial analysts tend to concur, noting that SBC also set aside Bt4 billion ($141 million) to provide a further cushion.

In 2018, SCB reported a 4.4% increase in net interest income (NII) driven by 5.2% loan growth and effective deposit management. It says it is trying to shed its expensive fixed deposits and improve its current account/savings account (CASA) ratio. This appears to be working since its CASA ratio improved to 68.9% at the end of 2018 from 65% at the end of 2017.

BEST INVESTMENT BANK, BEST ECM HOUSE, BEST BROKER: Phatra Securities

It was obvious right at the beginning of the awards process that there would be only one contender for Best Investment Bank in Thailand this year and that was Phatra Securities. It was on nearly all of the most significant M&A or ECM deals of the period.

What always stands out is the group’s advisory and structuring capabilities, whether that involves an acquisition or an IPO. Unlike some of its rivals, Phatra is unable to leverage a large balance sheet to scoop up deals because it is attached to a much smaller bank, Kiatnakin: Thailand’s 13th-largest by assets.

So the quality of advice it bring to issuers remains paramount. Unsurprisingly, the expertise and track record it has built up over the past two decades means that it now consistently works with most of Thailand’s top private and public sector corporates as they move up the value chain and expand their businesses overseas.

One notable example, which has featured heavily across all of this year’s Thai awards, was PTT. Its major transaction of the year was the Bt93 billion ($2.98 billion) acquisition of Glow Energy by its power development arm Global Power Synergy. This was a complex undertaking that was initially rejected by the regulator on competition grounds. It was only resolved after Glow agreed to divest an asset before the deal was scheduled to close.

Phatra also worked with one of Thailand’s largest telecommunications companies and one of its biggest conglomerates during the awards period.

It acted as buy-side advisor to Advanced Info Service unit Advanced Wireless Network on its Bt3.71 billion ($118.8 billion) purchase of an 80.1% stake in CS Loxinfo. Acting on a tight two-month timeline, Phatra also assisted a Berli Jucker subsidiary, Big C Retail, when it acquired industrial chemical distributor White Group for Bt2.99 billion ($96 million) from seven strategic investors via a mandatory general offer. 

When it comes to ECM, it is often a close call between Phatra and Bualuang and it was no different this year. However, what swung it was Phatra’s clear lead bringing IPOs to market. 
There were not many flotations during 2018 in what was a challenging year for Thai equity markets, but Phatra was on each of the top three for Thai Future Fund (TFFIF), Osotspa and Praram 9 Hospital.

In our 2018 Achievement Awards we made TFFIF’s Bt44.7 billion ($1.43 billion) IPO our Thai equity deal of the year. This was not because it richly rewarded investors or achieved a particularly punchy valuation but because it broke new ground for the local market.

The listing marked the Thai government’s first fundraising since 2004 and created a new type of vehicle for it to raise funds for infrastructure development, while providing retail investors with an attractive new yield product.

Another notable IPO was for energy drinks manufacturer Osotspa. This is the kind of company that investors typically love because it offers a consumption play on Thailand’s growing middle class. The Bt15.09 billion ($461.09) offering was well received in the primary market despite coming at the tail end of last year’s emerging market rout and it has rewarded investors since then.

In recent years, Phatra has also exerted a tight hold of our Best Brokerage award.

It is particularly well known for servicing high-net-worth investors and currently has 5,020 active clients with Bt435 billion ($13.92 billion) in total AUM.

Its AUM has been growing fast thanks to its merger with Kiatnakin Bank back in 2012. The synergies and cross-selling opportunities are now being fully taken advantage of.
As a result, Phatra says it gained 2,101 clients with Bt85.8 billion ($2.74 billion) AUM from Kiatnakin during the awards period alone.

Phatra Edge, which services clients with Bt2 million to Bt30 million ($64,000 to $960,000) currently has total assets of Bt38.33 billion ($1.22 billion) and just over 8,000 clients.
Over the past year, it has a rough 65:35 split between institutional and retail clients.

In a tough environment, Phatra is succeeding because it is expanding its product offering and digital services. It also upholds strong risk controls, which means it still has a clean sheet with the regulator.

In late 2017, it began diversifying away from passive funds into more structured notes, which have since amassed a notional of Bt1.5 billion ($48 million). It is also about to launch a new research portal for institutional clients. As of February, it was covering 86 large cap stocks representing just over 75% of the market’s total capitalisation.

BEST DCM HOUSE: KASIKORNBANK

Once again KASIKORNBANK (KBank) lifts this accolade after topping the league tables in the domestic bond market and demonstrating its ability to respond to the wants of the market, which was a more onerous task in 2018 due to rising US interest rates. 

DCM houses had to be particularly adept, not least because a handful of Thai borrowers had sizeable funding requirements.

No borrower exemplified that better than Thai Beverage. The group’s fundraising activities spanned last year’s awards period as well as this latest one after it sought to raise an enormous Bt180 billion ($5.76 billion) to finance its overseas expansion, particularly in Vietnam where it purchased a 53.6% stake in Saigon Beer Alcohol Beverage Company at the end of 2017.

The Thai drinks company ended tapping domestic investors for Bt50 billion ($1.6 billion) in March 2018, then for another Bt77 billion ($2.46 billion) in September and then again for Bt53 billion ($1.7 billion) this March.

September’s outing ranks as the country’s largest-ever corporate bond offering. And in order to place all of the paper, the lead management group divvied up the deals across the entire yield curve and available investor universe.

KBank was one of the lead managers, just as it was on pretty much every other major bond deal issued in the country.

Between April 1, 2018 and March 31, 2019, it underwrote 171 corporate bonds with an aggregate value of Bt185.43 billion ($5.9 billion). Its deals spanned plain vanilla, amortised, partial and fully guaranteed structures as well as Reit bonds, tier-2 capital, un-rated and hybrid structures.

One stand out transaction is Minor International’s Bt15 billion ($480 million) subordinated perpetual bonds. This represents a fairly rare example of a hybrid structure in Thailand

KBank was also a lead on two bond offerings for Bangchak Petroleum in August and December 2018. Both deals are good examples of how borrowers and issue managers responded well to market conditions.

The first Bt2 billion ($64 million) deal encompassed two- three- and five-year maturities because investors had a marked preference for shorter-dated paper. Later in the year, when markets settled again, the group was able to return and fulfill its financing needs with a longer Bt2.33 billion ($75 million) 10-year deal.

BEST PRIVATE BANK - KBank Private Banking

KBank Private Banking is Thailand’s largest private bank by assets and number of clients. What really makes KBank stand out, though, is the constant innovation that has enabled it to maintain its edge over the competition.

A prime example of this in 2018 was the launch of Avaloq, its new core IT system, which allows its private bankers to view client accounts when they are not in the office and make on-the-spot recommendations. In 2019, the bank plans to enhance the platform further and enable clients to access it as well.

KBank itself had a good year in what was a difficult one for capital markets generally. Its client numbers grew 8% to 11,165 and sophisticated AUM rose 13% to Bt83.1 billion.

At the end of the year, the group had total AUM of around the Bt750 billion ($24 billion) compared with close to Bt730 billion ($23 billion) at close rival SCB Private Banking.

When it comes to product offerings, KBank was the first domestic private bank to adopt an open architecture platform, giving clients broad international access to the world’s best product providers. And in 2018 its advice was to avoid trying to make the highest returns possible amid intense volatility in favour of investing over a five- to 10-year horizon.

As such, it launched a handful of funds designed to help clients better navigate risk including one managed by Blackrock. This year it is planning to launch an ESG–themed fund, although bankers say clients still care far more about returns than sustainable investments.

But they are investing more broadly. KBank says investments average 60% and deposits 40%, a complete reversal of the situation three to four years ago.

Another positive for KBank is its tie-up with Lombard Odier, now broadly five years old. Bankers say the partnership with the Swiss bank goes from strength to strength, with co-operation covering all the fundamental aspects of its private banking business including products, advice, service, research and branding.

BEST LAW FIRM: Weerawong, Chinnavat & Partners

It was a record year for Weerawong, Chinnavat & Partners in 2018, which was hardly surprising given how prominent the law firm was on nearly all of the country’s major deals.

It was the clear winner of FinanceAsia’s debut award for a Thai law firm.

Weerawong C&P has a total of 14 partners and 120 lawyers, but is still expanding fast to cope with a heavy workload relating to government projects.

One of the law firm’s major undertakings has been its advisory work for the government to update the country’s Public Private Partnership (PPP) laws – a task that involved juggling and liaising with multiple government departments. It also assisted the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) PPP, setting the legal framework for the development of six mega projects valued at Bt600 billion ($19.2 billion).

But perhaps the client Weerawong C&P has most to thank for its revenue stream is PTT. Thailand’s largest company by market value is optimising its many businesses and the way they interact with each other.

The country’s largest M&A deal of the year, according to Dealogic data, involved PTT’s power flagship, Global Power Synergy. Last June, the group announced a Bt139 billion ($4.45 billion) deal to purchase Glow Energy.

Weerawong C&P was the buy-side legal advisor for what turned out to be a far more complicated acquisition than expected after it ran into antitrust issues. The Energy Regulatory Commission initially rejected it because there was overlap in one area where both groups operated. It finally agreed to it after the merged entity agreed to offload one asset prior to closure.

The law firm’s other major work for PTT concerned the restructuring and spin-off of its retail unit PTT Oil & Retail (PTTOR). Weerawong C&P had the lead legal role dealing with the transfer of assets, undertakings, licenses, intellectual property rights and contracts in over 20 jurisdictions.

This was also a complex deal that involved six local financial advisors and two international financial advisors. The next stage will be an IPO, which is shaping up to be one of the most hotly anticipated flotations in years.

In 2018, the law firm was also involved in the largest IPO of the year: the Bt44.7 billion ($1.26 billion) listing of Thai Future Fund.

It was also very active in the cross-border M&A space too. One notable piece of work here was its advisory role to Singapore’s Grab. Weerawong C&P acted as Thai legal counsel in the acquisition of Uber’s South East Asian assets.

BEST INTERNATIONAL BANK: HSBC

HSBC has been the bridesmaid for a number of years in Thailand, but this year it was definitely time for it to take top billing. The bank’s Thai franchise had one of its best years ever in 2018 with improvements seen across most key financial metrics.

The most eye-catching achievement was a 44.8% year-on-year increase in its post-tax profit, which was achieved on the back of a 20.3% revenue increase and a 41.2% jump in pre-tax earnings.

The lender’s net interest income, fee and commission income and other operating income increased by 1.5%, 3.5% and 15.5%, respectively, from a year earlier. And the return on assets improved massively too, by 70 percentage points to 1.82%.

HSBC remains one of the go-to banks for trade finance and supply-chain solutions in Thailand. It has participated in various Thai infrastructure projects through either guarantees or financing, including the Double Track Railway project and the Laem Chabang Port expansion.

Meanwhile, HSBC helped to implement a new electronic procurement system (eGP) for bond issuance by the government and state-owned enterprises.

Recently, HSBC introduced the Supply Chain Finance (HSCF) solution, allowing buyers to automate funding processes that significantly reduce manual processing time.

The bank was also active on the investment banking side. And it was here that its global platform really came into play.

For example, HSBC acted as sell-side financial advisor to France’s Engie in the sale of its 69.1% stake in Glow Energy to PTT’s Global Power Synergy. This Bt139 billion ($4.45 billion) represented Thailand’s second largest M&A deal since 2014.

And it was on the buy-side of an M&A trade when it acted for independent power producer, EGCO, on its W900 billion ($760 million) purchase of a 49% stake in Paju ES in South Korea. This represented EGCO’s largest acquisition to date and its first in North Asia.

HSBC’s world-beating DCM franchise was also evident during the awards period too. The year was characterised by a fair few deals from the Thai banking sector, which HSBC helped to bring to market.

In November 2018 it was a bookrunner on the Export-Import Bank of Thailand’s debut $300 million floating rate note (FRN). Then in January this year it acted as a bookrunner on Siam Commercial Bank’s $1 billion five- and 10-year bond.


BEST INTERNATIONAL INVESTMENT BANK: Bank of America Merrill Lynch

Thailand has traditionally been the core focus of Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s Southeast Asian business. Besides its long-term partnership with local broker Phatra Securities, the US bank also has its own local team for both client relationship and deal execution purposes.

That differentiates it from many of the other investment banks that manage their Thai clients out of Singapore.

Bank of America Merrill Lynch is one of a handful of investment banks that can deliver results across all three main investment banking lines and it did so in spades during FinanceAsia’s awards period.

In ECM the bank scored two big wins last year by advising on the only two internationally marketed IPOs from the country – the Bt44.7 billion ($1.43 billion) IPO of Thailand Future Fund (TFFIF) and the Bt15.09 million ($461 million) IPO of Osotspa.

It is worth noting that preparations for the two IPOs required distinctly different approaches.

For TFFIF, Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s Thailand team focused on putting together an ideal structure for the offering, as well as advising the Thai government throughout the process. The latter was important because TFFIF is the country’s first fund dedicated to infrastructure investment and the government needed to make sure it went through smoothly.

This was one of the main reasons why TFFIF was awarded Best Thailand Deal in FinanceAsia’s Country Awards last year.

And when Bank of America Merrill Lynch advised on the IPO for energy drink maker Osotspa, it returned to corporate advisory mode – presenting the equity story and striking the highest possible value for the client.

When it comes to M&A, the US investment bank had two major deals to its name. One was Engie’s divestment of Glow Energy to PTT’s Global Power Synergy, on which it acted as a sell-side advisor.

Then there was Thai Military Bank’s divestment of a majority stake in its asset management arm to Prudential. Bank of America Merrill Lynch acted as sell-side advisor on the $380 million deal.

On the DCM side, Bank of America Merrill Lynch was involved in two liability management exercises for PTT and Thai Oil in April and June 2018 respectively. It was back in the market with PTT again in November when Thailand’s dominant energy company raised $1 billion from a 10- and 30-year bond deal.


BEST BANK: Vietcombank

It has been a hat-trick of wins for Vietcombank as far as FinanceAsia’s Country Awards are concerned. And its wins are becoming more compelling by the year thanks to the bank’s push to adopt a more balanced business model.

Specifically, it has spent the past three years building up its retail revenues and reducing its reliance on corporate lending. Over that time, officials say that retail’s share of the bank’s overall revenues has jumped to 46% from 30%.

Vietcombank aims to reach 50% by 2020 – the same year it wants to breach $1 billion in pre-tax profits, up from $793.6 million in 2018, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence figures.

The bank’s ability to provide attractive lending rates is underpinned by its high and sticky CASA ratio of 30% in a country where the average is 14%. During the 2018 financial year, nearly all of its key metrics improve, according to S&P: its ROAA rose to 1.45% from 1.06%, ROAE to 25.01% from 17.61% and its NIM to 2.89% from 2.6%.

NPLs in proportion to total loans also declined to 0.98% from 1.14%.

All of the above means that investors continue rewarding Vietcombank with a premium valuation to every other listed bank in Vietnam. It consistently trades above three times price-to-book in line with Asia’s highest rated banks.

However, it was also this premium valuation that delayed a strategic investment by Singapore’s GIC, which finally took place at the end of 2018 when the bank issued 3% of its charter capital to the Singaporean group and existing strategic investor Mizuho.

Vietcombank has plans to continue spreading its wings in 2019. This includes unwinding its existing bancassurance foreign joint venture and setting up a new one.

It has also become the first Vietnamese bank to receive approval to set up a representative office in New York and is now eyeing a branch in Sydney.

BEST INVESTMENT BANK, BEST BROKER, BEST ECM HOUSE: SSI

It was really very hard to ignore SSI during 2018 despite its intense and ongoing competition with Ho Chi Minh Securities (HSC) and Viet Capital. All three houses have distinct business models, each scoring notable successes in what ended up being a very lumpy and volatile year on the investment banking side.

HSC continues to carve out a niche for mid-size deals around the $100 million to $200 million mark. Most notably, there was its initial equity offering of Yeah1, which slipped in right at the end of 2018’s equities bull run.

Then there is Viet Cap whose blue-chip credentials were burnished by its hold over some of the country’s leading names during the awards period. This resulted in three deals for Masan Group as well as the country’s second-largest ever flotation – for Techcombank.

But one company dominated capital markets activity and that was Vinhomes. The country’s largest real estate developer brought the country’s largest-ever IPO when it raised $1.35 billion in mid-April.

SSI was the only local bookrunner on the deal. It was also broker for 100% of the selling group’s trades and 70% of the buy-side’s trades during the flotation process.

The deal could not have been better timed from the issuer’s perspective, coming right at the top of the bull market. Over the short-term, investors would probably beg to differ given how the market and the stock price slid during the second half of 2018.

However, long-term investors wanted to position themselves in the jewel of the Vingroup crown. And the deal also stood out for its speed of execution, a rarity in a country that often exposes investors to extended market risk between pricing and trading.

In addition to Vinhomes, SSI was the only bookrunner for Tien Phong Bank’s (TPBank) $94 million share sale and Pan Group’s $35 million private placement, both executed in June 2018.

SSI also acted as the sell-side advisor for Pan Group on the M&A side. This involved a $35 million deal with Japan’s Sojitz. The securities house created a strategic co-operation committee between the two agricultural groups covering finance, R&D and market operations.

Its second main M&A deal involved another Japanese buyer, Taisho. Here it advised DHG Pharma in seeking regulatory approval to abolish its foreign shareholding limit to facilitate a $48.2 million in 2018 and $108 million just outside FinanceAsia’s awards period in 2019.

BEST DCM HOUSE: Techcom Securities

This is the second year running in which Techcom Securities has won the award for Best DCM House. It is an acknowledgement of its pioneering role developing Vietnam’s corporate bond market by nurturing a large retail investor base in the absence of an institutional one. 

Techcom is a pioneer in every sense of the word. A number of other houses are now starting to cotton on to the potential of Vietnam’s nascent corporate bond market, but Techcom’s bankers believe that it will be hard for them to catch up.

During 2018, for example, the firm accounted for almost 40% of the record Vnd62 trillion ($2.6 billion) of corporate bonds that were issued. Volumes themselves were up 85% year-on-year.

Techcom is omnipresent across the market. It has a strong lock on the country’s most highly regarded corporates such as Vingroup and Masan and is continually expanding its issuer roster. New clients in 2018 included RedSun and Ba Na Cable.

It also broke new ground last year with a Vnd1.15 trillion ($50 million) deal for Ho Chi Minh City Infrastructure Investment (CII). The group’s infrastructure requirements necessitate the kind of long tenors that the Vietnamese bond market is still unable to provide. So Techcom worked with GuarantCo to come up with a structure, guarantee and pricing that worked for all involved.

And then there is its growing investor base. Techcom now has a retail investor base numbering 18,000 across 45 provinces.

What it wants to do is bring in more institutions and develop secondary market trading. To achieve the former, it embarked this spring on its first international roadshow targeting fund managers in Hong Kong and Singapore. To achieve the latter, it is currently building an open-access trading platform for market participants.

BEST INTERNATIONAL BANK: HSBC

There is little doubt HSBC’s Vietnam franchise is deserving of FinanceAsia’s Best International Bank for the sixth year in a row after reporting yet another strong year, both in terms of financial performance, credit risk management and deal making activity.

In 2018, HSBC Vietnam’s bottom-line grew by 39% on a year-on-year basis while operating income was up 23% due to strong deposit and lending activities.

The bank’s total assets grew by about 13% from a year earlier, while customer deposits also increased by 12.5%. Net interest income, fee and commission income and other operating income increased by 27%, 17% and 15%, respectively, from a year earlier.

HSBC Vietnam was able to achieve these while maintaining its capital strength and credit quality.

Its non-performing loan ratio improved eight percentage points to 0.44% on effective credit risk management and improved market conditions. Its capital adequacy ratio remained unchanged at 14%, which is far above the minimum level of 9% required by the State Bank of Vietnam.

The Bank’s long-standing presence in the country means that it has the ability and the balance sheet to pick and choose the winners it wants to back. One very notable choice last year was VinFast, the automotive arm of the ever-expanding Vingroup.

The conglomerate’s desire to build Vietnam’s first national car from scratch has not been without its critics who point to Malaysia’s failed attempt via Proton. However, HSBC clearly believes that Vingroup has the right management team and strategy in place after acting as a mandated lead arranger on two landmark deals for VinFast during 2018.

One was a $400 million term loan and the second was a $950 million Hermes-backed ECA loan. The latter represents the first ECA covered facility for a private sector company in the country.
                                    
HSBC also stands behind the government’s ambitions to promote the country to foreign investors. It has been involved in the process, having completed 12 business trips and roadshows across Asia last year to connect Vietnam’s businesses to opportunities in other markets, including China, South Korea, Thailand, Sri Lanka and Hong Kong.

BEST INTERNATIONAL INVESTMENT BANK: Credit Suisse

FinanceAsia’s Best International Investment Bank award for Vietnam really should be one of the most competitive categories given how interest in the country is growing.

And it is true that a number of banks brought deals to market during the awards period. However, one bank was completely dominant and that is Credit Suisse.

It not only helped big Vietnamese companies with their financing plans but also smaller ones looking to internationalise. It was active across M&A, ECM and loan financing.

The Swiss bank’s Vietnamese franchise rarely misses out on any major transaction. Most notably, last year, it was a joint global coordinator of Vinhomes’ $1.35 billion initial equity offering, which also won FinanceAsia’s Best IPO in the 2018 annual Achievement Awards.

One clear trend in Vietnam is a heavy influx of investment from South Korea. Credit Suisse capitalised on this by connecting Vietnamese companies with Korean investors, and successfully closed a number of strategic investments.

In August, it advised Vingroup in the negotiation of a $400 million strategic investment from Korea’s Hanwha Group, which was executed in the form of convertible dividend preference shares.

A month later it advised Masan Group in the sale of $473 million-worth of treasury shares to SK Group, one of Korea’s top conglomerates.

Credit Suisse also executed a number of equity trades for Vietnamese companies.
In April, the bank solely arranged a $310 million fundraising for property developer Novaland, which included a $160 million convertible bond sale and $150 million share placement. The bank raised another $60 million for Novaland through a convertible bond tap eight months later.

Credit Suisse was also a joint bookrunner on Vinpearl’s $325 million exchangeable bond into Vingroup, the first of its kind in Vietnam.

The Swiss bank also put its balance sheet to work on a number of occasions. One particular standout was its role as one of the two lead arrangers alongside HSBC for VinFast’s $950 million Hermes-backed ECA deal.

This article has been updated to correct the trading activity in John Keells

 

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