Sovereign wealth fund trips up Malaysia merger again

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Why did CIMB sell half its international brokerage business to China Galaxy? It is a coincidence of interests: survival on one side, expansion on the other.

This is becoming a habit. For the second time in three years and the third time in six, a merger involving Malaysia’s RHB Bank has collapsed. Sooner or later the spurned partner in a string of failed relationships must start to think: maybe it’s about me. Or, in this case: is it my shareholder?

When RHB’s three-way merger with CIMB Group and Malaysia Building Society collapsed in 2015, it was blamed in part on RHB’s second-largest shareholder, Aabar Investments, demanding a higher valuation (although CIMB chairman Nazir Razak suggested to Euromoney that CIMB itself pulled the plug).

Aabar’s appearance on the register of RHB in 2011 had already torpedoed earlier merger talks between RHB, CIMB and Maybank. Now, rumours are that Aabar’s expectations have also derailed the planned merger with AMMB Holdings, known locally as AmBank.

Aabar is part of the Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth fund Mubadala; its mandate is pretty clear: make money for the long-term prosperity of its state and its people. Consequently, it is tough in negotiations and, with a multi-generational time horizon, not in any rush.

Also, it paid a lot of money for its stake in RHB in 2011, buying at a valuation of 2.25 times book from its sister company, Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank. Right now, RHB is not even trading at book value. That must weigh on the shareholder’s calculations.

In the earlier CIMB/RHB deal, the question was how RHB was valued within that merged entity; here, the question was instead how much RHB should pay for AmBank. AmBank has a ton of trouble to deal with because of its associations with 1MDB and is, in any event, too small to thrive in Malaysia’s crowded market. So Aabar will have sought to buy it at as low a price as possible.

But AmBank’s own biggest shareholder is ANZ (24%), which, while it categorically wants out of investments like AmBank and would have had a better shot at exiting with the merger going through, is not going to be pushed around on price while it is answerable to some of the world’s most belligerent shareholders in Australia.

Complicating things further, the biggest investor in RHB (41%) and one of the biggest in AmBank (10%) is exactly the same institution, the Employees Provident Fund, which therefore cannot get involved.

It is possible that RHB did not like what it found in due diligence about AmBank’s contingent liabilities. Another theory is that bad pressabout potential lay-offs through the merger’s cost savings looked bad ahead of national elections, souring the previously positive public institutional support for the deal.

Whatever the reason, the outcome is clear: it’s dead, again.

So, what now? Malaysia’s banking sector remains bloated, with six big banks where four would be ideal. And with every failed integration, the appeal of bidding for or teaming up with RHB must surely be declining.

Full article:

Chris Wright
Chris Wright
Chris is a journalist specialising in business and financial journalism across Asia, Australia and the Middle East. He is Asia editor for Euromoney magazine and has written for publications including the Financial Times, Institutional Investor, Forbes, Asiamoney, the Australian Financial Review, Discovery Channel Magazine, Qantas: The Australian Way and BRW. He is the author of No More Worlds to Conquer, published by HarperCollins.

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