Current Price: $8.26
Offer Price: $9.00
Expected Closing: mid-2021
The idea was shared by Dan.
2nd largest Chinese search engine Sogou is due to be taken private by the internet giant Tencent, which already owns 58% of the company. Consideration stands at $9/share.
During H2 2020 market considered this transaction to be a done deal and even at the non-binding stage the spread stood at around 3% and then shrunk to 1% after the definitive agreement was signed. However, after the emergence of potential regulatory issues in Dec’20, the spread widened considerably and now fluctuates around 9%-10%. Regulatory risks add substantial uncertainty and are difficult to handicap. However, the spread is really attractive for Tencent’s acquisition.
The downside to pre-announcement stands at 40%, however, should be significantly lower given that the non-binding offer was done in July (impact and uncertainty regarding COVID was much stronger).
In December SOGO has made a filing stating that due to the regulatory review process it extends the merger termination date from the previous 29th of March to the 31st of June. Apparently, Chinese regulators have decided to introduce a new approach to tackle the empire-building of the giant internet companies and significantly sharpen the scrutiny due to anti-trust concerns. Major firms, including Alibaba and Tencent, received fines under the anti-monopoly law.
Also rumors started spreading that regulators are “particularly keen” on making the Tencent/SOGO acquisition to be an example of the new approach. The decision to outright-block this merger would be kind of strange, given that Tencent already owns a controlling stake in the company, while the consolidation would actually create more chances to level out the search engine market, which is now reigned over by Baidu (67% market share). However, given the unpredictability of Chinese regulators, especially in the context of anti-trust/monopolistic behavior concerns, the regulatory review remains a risk here.
Positive aspects of this case
- Tencent already owns 58% of SOGO and has been with the company since 2013.
- The merger will be done as a short-form merger under the Cayman laws, so shareholder approval is not required. The transaction was clearly planned to be as clean as possible in order to close without any extra hurdles.
- The definitive agreement is already in place, which for a US-listed Chinese company takeover signals a very high chance of the transaction going through.
- Tencent is a credible strategic buyer. It is one of the largest companies in the world ($810bn market cap) and this is a fairly minuscule transaction to them (financing is not an issue). Compared to other Chinese giants Tencent’s expansion strategy is more relied on engaging in strategic partnerships/JVs than making acquisitions, however, if the internet giant sets its eyes on a target, the deal usually gets done (there are no cases of Tencent walking away from an already announced transaction). One of the most recent examples – the acquisition of a troubled Bitauto (online automotive classifieds company) last year, which was not derailed even by the pandemic (definitive agreement signed in June’20).
- The strategic sense is sound. SOGO is the second (after Baidu) largest search engine with 24% market share. Tencent uses SOGO to power its own ecosystem of apps (WeChat, QQ.com, etc.). Previously Tencent was trying to create its own search engine, however, in 2013 it was merged with SOGO with Tencent retaining 36% stake in the combined company. This partnership is very important for both parties – Sogo receives a considerable amount of traffic from Tencent’s users (around 35%), while for Tencent, Sogou provides a significant market share in the online search market and creates competitive pressure against its rival Baidu. Worth noting that the Chinese online advertising market is becoming increasingly competitive, especially with the recent emergence of new players, mainly ByteDance with its TikTok app already generating more online ad revenues than Tencent or even Baidu. Additionally, in 2019 ByteDance has also released its own search engine. So overall, SOGO’s acquisition will allow Tencent to secure the market share in this sector and lock-in SOGO’s traffic, while improved synergies between the Sogou and Tencent’s apps, will make the company better positioned to fight off the competition.
- That the move also comes shortly after Tencent’s announcement of planned $70bn investment in the new infrastructure, increasing its focus on AI, IoT, big data, etc. Merger with SOGO will allow Tencent to integrate SOGO’s AI technologies (speech, machine translation, Q&A, and more), while also acquiring its experienced staff.