BEIJING — China’s government has made it harder to move money overseas. It has said it would punish companies for investing in certain sectors. It has told firms to report all cross-border deals.
Despite all that, Chinese companies are still going global.
Zhejiang Geely Holding Group, the Chinese company that bought Volvo Cars in 2010, said on Wednesday it would acquire an 8.2 percent stake in AB Volvo, a Swedish manufacturer of trucks, from the activist investment firm Cevian Capital. The deal, valued at $3.2 billion based on a New York Times calculation, would make Geely the truck maker’s largest shareholder.
It was the latest sign that Chinese companies are still on the lookout for deals.
“It’s not like they are pulling back. ‘I can’t do what I wanted, so now I’m done.’ They are seeking out projects that are still of interest,” said Geoffrey Sant, a partner at the New York-based law firm Dorsey & Whitney who advises Chinese companies on acquisitions. Mr. Sant said his clients, some of whom had been looking at real estate and hotels, were now considering investing in mining and aviation.
“I think it takes a certain kind of person who would want to do cross-border deals and those people don’t want to just give up.”
China has aggressively sought to curb outbound investment in recent months, spooked by capital outflows and by the way some of its conglomerates piled up debt as they expanded overseas.
In a statement on Tuesday, the National Development and Reform Commission, the Chinese government agency that oversees economic planning, said the country’s companies would have to report all foreign investment deals through a new online system. It said it would establish a mechanism to supervise overseas deals “so as to better safeguard national interests and national security.”
In August, Beijing said it would forbid acquisitions in sectors ranging from entertainment and sports clubs to hotels, reiterating a warning issued late last year. But the government also said that it would approve acquisitions by “qualified companies” and encourage deals that supported the Belt and Road Initiative, President Xi Jinping’s ambitious push to increase China’s influence through infrastructure projects across Asia, Africa and Europe.
There are some signs the new rules are having an effect. Chinese companies spent about $147 billion in cross-border deals this year, according to Dealogic, a data provider. That is sharply lower than last year, when in a record buying spree they poured $217 billion into a wide variety of overseas businesses, including movie companies and soccer clubs.
Still, major deals are being done. In the last four months, Chinese companies spent about $36 billion on outbound mergers and acquisitions, Dealogic data showed. Many have concentrated on industries like energy and infrastructure. China’s State Grid Corp., for example, bought the Brazilian power holding company CPFL Energia SA last month for $3.4 billion. And Yancoal, which is majority owned by the Chinese coal giant Yanzhou Coal Mining Co. Ltd., has bought Australia’s Coal & Allied.
The Geely deal is the latest example of how acquisitions have not stopped as a result of the new rules.
Geely, led by Li Shufu, was a relatively early proponent of deal making. When it bought Volvo from Ford Motor, it became the first Chinese carmaker to acquire a foreign rival, and was one of the first Chinese companies to get its technology through acquisitions, rather than joint ventures. It has shown no signs of letting up: Along with the deal announced on Wednesday, it said in November it had acquired Boston-based Terrafugia Inc., which plans to sell flying cars in 2019.
Ash Sutcliffe, a Geely spokesman, said the company was not worried about whether the new rules on outbound investment would affect the AB Volvo deal. “We are very confident that deal will go ahead,” said Mr. Sutcliffe. “Geely has a long history of overseas investments — I don’t think it will be a major issue.”
There are good reasons for Geely to make such an investment. Analysts are forecasting a boom in sales of gas trucks as China tries to wean its truckers off diesel vehicles, part of wide-ranging efforts by the authorities to reduce emissions. Because the government wants to improve the transportation sector, officials are likely to approve the deal, according to Mats Harborn, president of the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China.
There are, however, downsides to the state having such a strong role in directing overseas acquisitions.
“The problem is that as everyone is directed to the same investment, the price of the investment might be driven up,” said Mr. Sant. “And they are becoming irrational investments because everyone is bidding for the same projects.”