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Thursday, June 23, 2005

Chinese Oil Giant in Takeover Bid for U.S. Corporation - New York Times

Chinese Oil Giant in Takeover Bid for U.S. Corporation - New York TimesJune 23, 2005
Chinese Oil Giant in Takeover Bid for U.S. Corporation
By DAVID BARBOZA
and ANDREW ROSS SORKIN

SHANGHAI, Thursday, June 23 - One of China's largest state-controlled oil companies made a $18.5 billion unsolicited bid Thursday for Unocal, signaling the first big takeover battle by a Chinese company for an American corporation.

The bold bid, by the China National Offshore Oil Corporation ( CNOOC), may be a watershed in Chinese corporate behavior, and it demonstrates the increasing influence on Asia of Wall Street's bare-knuckled takeover tactics.

The offer is also the latest symbol of China's growing economic power and of the soaring ambitions of its corporate giants, particularly when it comes to the energy resources it needs desperately to continue feeding its rapid growth.

CNOOC's bid, which comes two months after Unocal agreed to be sold to Chevron, the American energy giant, for $16.4 billion, is expected to incite a potentially costly bidding war over the California-based Unocal, a large independent oil company. CNOOC said its offer represents a premium of about $1.5 billion over the value of Unocal's deal with Chevron after a $500 million breakup fee.

Moreover, the effort is likely to provoke a fierce debate in Washington about the nation's trade policies with China and the role of the two governments in the growing trend of deal making between companies in the countries.

This week, a consortium of investors led by the Haier Group, one of China's biggest companies, moved to acquire the Maytag Corporation, the American appliance maker, for about $1.3 billion, surpassing a bid from a group of American investors.

Last month, Lenovo, China's largest computer maker, completed its $1.75 billion deal for I.B.M.'s personal computer business, creating the world's third-largest computer maker after Dell and Hewlett-Packard.

After years of attracting billions in foreign investment and virtually turning itself into the world's largest factory floor, China appears to be nurturing the growth of its own corporate giants into beacons of capitalism. China wants to be a player on the world stage, and it is eager to have its own energy resources, its own multinational corporations and its own dazzling corporate names.

And some of China's biggest companies are now on the hunt, trying to snap up global treasures.

"If there's an asset up for sale anywhere in the world, people are looking to China, particularly if there's a manufacturing element involved," said Colin Banfield, who runs the mergers and acquisitions practice at Credit Suisse First Boston in Asia. "And if these two deals go through this year, no one is going to doubt the credibility of the Chinese corporates when it comes to M & A."

The deal making and bidding wars are all the more remarkable because they involve Chinese companies taking on American multinationals in a series of transactions certain to be a boon for Western lawyers and investment bankers, many of whom have been betting hundreds of millions of dollars on China's rise.

Indeed, CNOOC is being advised by an army of bankers from Goldman Sachs, J. P. Morgan Chase and N M Rothschild & Sons of Britain.

In a response, Unocal said in a statement that its board would evaluate the offer, but that its recommendation of the deal with Chevron "remains in effect."

CNOOC's bid faces an uphill battle, with hurdles that probably rise above those usually confronting a corporate bidder. Already, lawmakers in Washington are questioning whether the Bush administration should intervene to block the bid for Unocal, which was founded in 1890 as the Union Oil Company of California.

Two Republican representatives from California, Richard W. Pombo and Duncan Hunter, wrote a letter last week to President Bush, after speculation concerning the deal arose, urging that the transaction be scrutinized on the grounds of national security.

They wrote: "As the world energy landscape shifts, we believe that it is critical to understand the implications for American interests and most especially, the threat posed by China's governmental pursuit of world energy resources. The United States increasingly needs to view meeting its energy requirements within the context of our foreign policy, national security and economic security agenda."

Energy Secretary Samuel W. Bodman said at a meeting of the National Petroleum Council late Wednesday that the government's review of the deal would be "truly a complex matter," according to Reuters.

In Beijing, Liu Jianchao, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, told reporters on Tuesday that "this is a corporate issue," according to Bloomberg News. "I can't comment on this individual case," Mr. Liu said, "but I can say we encourage the U.S. to allow normal trade relations to take place without political interference."

TCL, a Chinese company that began by making cassette tapes in 1981, is suddenly the world's biggest television set maker, after its acquisition last July of the television business of Thomson of France, which owned the old RCA brand.

Chinese companies still have a long way to go to become global giants that can compete head-to-head with Toyota, Siemens or General Electric. Most of the China deals are small in value - about $1 billion to $2 billion - when compared with big American or European deals.

Whether CNOOC's bid will succeed on it merits is unclear. It is interested in Unocal, once known for its 76 brand, less for its exploration and production in North America than for its huge reserves in Asia. Twenty-seven percent of Unocal's proven oil reserves and 73 percent of its proven natural gas reserves are in Asia, according to Merrill Lynch.

To succeed, CNOOC will have to persuade Unocal's shareholders to vote against their deal with Chevron. The new deal would then face a shareholder vote.

Even though CNOOC's offer is worth $1.5 billion more than Chevron's, some shareholders could still decide that the regulatory review process and the time required to complete a deal with CNOOC would pose too great a risk, given the size of the offer.

Chevron, which could raise its bid to counter CNOOC, is racing to complete its deal and submit it to a shareholder vote as early as August. The company made no specific comment on the Chinese offer.

CNOOC's all-cash offer values Unocal at $67 a share. Chevron's cash and stock offer values Unocal at $61.26 a share, based on Chevron's closing price on Wednesday of $58.27 a share. Shares of Unocal jumped 2.2 percent, to $64.85, as investors anticipated CNOOC's higher bid.

In CNOOC's letter to Unocal, it went to great lengths to say that its bid was friendly, despite being unsolicited. "This friendly, all-cash proposal is a superior offer for Unocal shareholders," wrote CNOOC's chairman and chief executive, Fu Chengyu.

Trying to assuage concerns of some in Washington, CNOOC pledged to continue Unocal's practice of selling all of the oil and gas produced in the United States back to customers in the United States. The company also said it would retain substantially all of Unocal's employees in the United States.

David Barboza contributed reporting from Shanghai for this article and Andrew Ross Sorkin from New York

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