Negotiating China M&A Deals: Watching a Bit of the Sausage Get Made

China M&A lawyersThe below is an email from one of our China corporate transactional lawyers to a client in the midst of dealing with a Chinese company interested in buying our client. Though it is from quite some time ago, I have modified it slightly to remove anything that might pass as an identifier. I pass it on because it shows a fairly typical issue that comes up when a Chinese company is seeking to buy a company overseas.

The response from the Chinese side is the normal endless negotiation approach. I doubt this is what you want, and your offer to [Chinese company made it clear this is not what you want. If you concede to their approach, your advantage is lost.

This happens often in company sales. It is not unique to China. The response depends on who is most desperate. Here is what we normally do in this situation where we are not desperate.

1. The buyer has two weeks to perform due diligence during the period required to draft an agreement.

2. If the buyer wants to extend due diligence into the period after the definitive agreement is executed, it can have an additional 2 weeks but only if they pay a substantial non-refundable earnest money deposit. “Substantial” means something like USD$ _____million or more. If they want another two weeks, it requires an additional non-refundable deposit. Chinese companies rarely agree to this kind of proposal, but if they truly believe they are onto a “good thing” (and it does appear they believe that here) they will likely pay for your company with no real due diligence at all. So you need to find out where you stand with these people.

To be clear: what the Chinese side is saying is that they don’t know anything about [client company_] and they don’t know whether they want to purchase you at all. Your position should be: [Chinese company] should be hot to purchase you or the whole project is a waste of time.

You have stated you are a terrific market opportunity for [Chinese company] and you are convinced [Chinese company] already understands this. If [Chinese company] does understand then they understand the price you are asking is a bargain and they should just pay it and be done. If they do not just accept this, you probably will need to meet with them face to face, which means key people from [Client company] need to go to China very soon to meet with the [Chinese company] players face to face. In that setting, you should understand that the Chinese company will likely be expecting you to give them a substantial price concession and so whoever travels to China on your behalf should have authority to agree on pricing; the people in China will want to negotiate with a decision maker, not a functionary.

Successful negotiations of company sales with Chinese entities typically work only if the company they are looking to buy both act like and truly do operate from a position of strength. This though means you must be willing to take the risk that [Chinese company] will walk away. The idea of a deal that is fair to both parties is for the most part foreign to Chinese companies. One side has to be on top. You need to be the side that is on top, even if that means [Chinese company] walks away. If you really believe you are giving [Chinese company] a rare market opportunity — and everything seems to align with this view — you have to believe you are “on top” and you do not need to sell to [Chinese company].

If you want, you can confirm immediately that your intent is to sell 100%. However, your offer document says just that. If they cannot read, then that is also a problem.

I note we had a similar situation here in Washington state for the sale of a company to a Spanish buyer. We took a hard line and the buyer walked away. Four months later, they returned and our client was sold at a very good price. The key was that our client did in fact own very valuable IP assets the Spanish company needed, so they came back. And when they came back we were able to say: now you understand we are not going to tolerate a low-ball price or any other nonsense; let’s just do the deal and be done with it. We did the deal in two weeks and we told all the investment banker vultures to get lost. But, the client had to take the risk that the Spanish company would never return. You may end up having to show similar patience here.

Dan Harris

Dan Harris is internationally regarded as a leading authority on legal matters related to doing business in China and in other emerging economies in Asia. Forbes Magazine, Business Week, Fortune Magazine, BBC News, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Economist, CNBC, The New York Times, and many other major media players, have looked to him for his perspective on international law issues.