Ant's MoneyGram failure casts pall over Chinese dealmaking

Alibaba Executive Chairman Jack Ma visited President-elect Donald Trump in January of 2017 as his company was launching an attempt to buy MoneyGram

MoneyGram's chief executive officer Alex Holmes said in a statement: "The geopolitical environment has changed considerably since we first announced the proposed transaction". The company claims 30,000 locations in the US and more than 350,000 in countries around the world. He was attempting to expand the footprint of Ant Financial amidst fierce competition domestically from rival Tencent Holdings, the owner of the messaging app WeChat and its payments app.

In November, China Oceanwide Holdings Group and Genworth Financial extended a deadline to 1 April for the Chinese group's planned $2.7bn takeover of the United States life insurer.

A USA government panel's decision to block Ant Financial's $1.2 billion acquisition of MoneyGram International Inc.is another indication that goodwill built during President Donald Trump's November Beijing trip is fading, according to China's state-run Xinhua news agency.

In September, the Trump administration blocked the sale of Oregon-based Lattice Semiconductor to private equity firm Canyon Bridge, its Chinese partner Yitai Capital, and Yitai's parent the China Venture Capital Fund Corp, over national security concerns.

Republican representatives Robert Pittenger and Chris Smith alluded to those blurred lines in expressing fears over the MoneyGram deal in an op-ed written for the Wall Street Journal (paywall) previous year: "Ant Financial is reportedly seeking access to MoneyGram's 2.4 billion bank and mobile user accounts". Ant Financial's $1.2bn (€1bn) deal for Dallas- based MoneyGram would have added a network of 350,000 agent locations in more than 200 countries and territories that it says reaches billions of accounts.

John Reynolds, a partner at Davis Polk in Washington, told the Financial Times that the Trump administration has been reluctant to approve deals involving Chinese takeovers of USA companies.

Ant Financial disputes this.

Under terms of the agreement between the two companies, Ant will pay MoneyGram a $30 million termination fee.

The Chinese government holds a 15% stake in Ant Financial, according to the congressmen, who are both Republicans.

"Lots of China's companies underestimate compliance risk and the complexity of operating in highly regulated USA markets, particularly in the finance and fin tech sectors", said Jeffrey Sun, partner at law firm Orrick, based in Shanghai. "None of these investors participate in management or have board representation". They plan to work together "on new strategic initiatives" around remittances and digital payments in Asian markets after the deal didn't materialize, they said. But despite "extensive efforts" to address the concerns of the CFIUS, the companies could not obtain the required approval and the deal was mutually terminated today.

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