Guo’s defense comes at a time when Beijing has stepped up oversight on outbound deals as money has flown offshore and regulators are reportedly looking into bank loans made to finance those acquisitions. Experts say the government wants to regain control to make sure investments align with Beijing’s strategic priorities.
“Officials want to have veto power over cross-border deals to ensure they are in line with national economic and strategic goals,” Yanmei Xie, a China policy analyst at research firm Gavekal Dragonomics, wrote in a recent note. “This new environment is likely to prove easier for state-owned companies to navigate than private firms.”
Fosun’s latest purchase falls along those lines, and takes a safer route by partnering with a state-owned enterprise. On Friday, the firm announced it would jointly acquire French margarine maker St-Hubert with state firm Beijing Sanyuan Food.
“This acquisition would represent an important and practical step towards China’s mixed-ownership reform,” Guo said in a statement. Mixed ownership reform is one way authorities are trying to shape up the massive, inefficient state sector, which economists have long said is a drag on growth.
Fosun, like many other firms, has hit the headlines as government scrutiny on overseas deals has intensified. But the company has been relatively unscathed thus far, and Guo is likely interested in keeping things that way.
Guo has before been entangled with the authorities. In 2015, Fosun said it had lost contact with him and shares of his firm’s listed units plummeted. When Guo later resurfaced, details were scarce: All that was revealed was that he had been assisting officials with an investigation. Since then, Guo has re-emerged in public life and has appeared on ads in China, and his firm has continued to invest abroad.
Looking forward, there will still be plenty of international investment coming out of China, Cao Wenlian, director general of the International Cooperation Center at the National Development and Reform Commission, told CNBC.
Beijing is “not discouraging overseas investment; it’s just that the government has started regulating overseas investment … what the Chinese government has done is to control or fend off the risks,” Cao said. “We should rein in the belts of companies and remind them that their investments need to be wiser.”
Since 2011, Fosun has spent $10.4 billion in outbound mergers and acquisitions, according to Dealogic. It has bought in sectors from real estate to entertainment, including the iconic One Chase Manhattan Plaza building, along with stakes in luxury resort Club Med and entertainment troupe Cirque du Soleil.
Guo is China’s 28th richest man and worth about 44.5 billion yuan ($6.7 billion), according to the Hurun Report, which releases an annual ranking. Publicly traded units of Fosun are all up so far this year, led by a 26 percent jump in Fosun Pharma shares.
— CNBC’s Eunice Yoon contributed to this report.