Is fan-in-chief Xi why Fosun is at Wolves' door?

Fosun International’s bid for English football club Wolverhampton Wanderers is atypical for the conglomerate.

Chinese companies have become increasingly hungry for overseas assets. They have announced acquisitions worth $145 billion so far this year, dwarfing a full year tally in 2015 that was itself a record-setter.

Bankers say they have Xi Jinping, China’s president, to thank for many of these deals. The Chinese government’s commitment to One Belt, One Road is fuelling bids from infrastructure and industrial companies. A commitment to creating global tech champions is leading companies like Tencent to go on buying sprees.

But although this may explain some of the biggest Chinese outbound M&A deals this year, it does not explain some of the most high profile ones — the moves by several Chinese buyers to take over European football teams.

Xi Jinping is still to thank, bankers say. China’s leader is, after all, a big fan of the sport.

“The guy sitting in Beijing likes football,” said one China M&A head. “I don’t think it’s a formal government directive, but anybody who wants to ingratiate themselves towards him is deciding to go out and buy a football team if they’ve got the money.”

Fosun International appears to be the latest company to have won some brownie points this week, after getting close to finalising a takeover of fallen English giant Wolverhampton Wanderers, according to a person familiar with the deal. Fosun itself declined to comment on any deal on Thursday.

There is no suggestion that appealing to Xi is the sole motivation of Fosun’s executives in buying the storied club from an industrial town in the English Midlands that plays below the megabucks Premier League, but it is surely a welcome bonus.

Fosun joins a small but growing list of Chinese buyers that have swallowed up football clubs over the last few years. Tony Xia Jiantong, the founder of China’s Recon Group, bought Aston Villa for around £60 million ($78.8 million). Dalian Wanda - which FinanceAsia had pondered as a potential bidder for Villa - bought a 20% stake in Athletico Madrid. A consortium including China Media Capital and Citic Capital bought a 13% stake in Manchester City. Another Chinese consortium is reportedly on the cusp of purchasing Italy's AC Milan.

Fan: Xi Jinping

These deals may not make the most business sense. As FinanceAsia has pointed out previously, owning a football club is certainly not a sure-fire way to make money. But it does allow Chinese investors to move their money offshore without much political risk, something that M&A bankers think Chinese tycoons are increasingly eager to do.

Fosun has been one of the most acquisitive companies in China over the last five years. It has completed $28.47bn of acquisitions since 2010, spread between 99 deals, according to Dealogic. It has announced six more, not including the Wolverhampton Wanderers deal.

The company has, though, begun to distance itself from such an aggressive strategy. Liang Xinjun, the company’s chief executive, told FinanceAsia in April that the company would focus more on domestic growth.

The deals have still come for Fosun this year, but they have been smaller and less frequent. Fosun did buy an Israeli cosmetics company, Ahava Dea Sea Laboratories, earlier this year. But it also jettisoned plans to buy an Israeli insurance company in a much bigger deal.

Fosun, led by high-profile chairman Guo Guangchang, appears to have decided that after years of bingeing on overseas assets, it is time to look closer to home. But the company could be forgiven for making a move that is sure to win approval from China’s football-loving president — even if it would be cheaper to buy season tickets.

¬ Haymarket Media Limited. All rights reserved.
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