There’s an interesting indication today of the changes taking place in the Chinese economy. Bloomberg are reporting that Blackstone, the US private equity group, is to purchase around 18% of specialty chemical company China BlueStar for $500m. This will be Blackstone’s first Chinese investment, and follows the Chinese government’s $3bn investment into Blackstone in June.
The report is also interesting for the detail it provides about the way the deal has been structured. We already knew that China had decided to move some of its considerable US$ holdings into equity-type investments, via the establishment of a $200bn Sovereign Wealth Fund. The investment in Blackstone was clearly signalled as being part of a strategy to use selected Western companies to help them invest this money wisely.
And it is true, of course, that Blackstone do have a long-standing interest in chemicals. How can one forget their investment in Celanese in April 2004?
They spotted an anomaly between the ratings of chemical companies listed in Frankfurt and New York, and bought Celanese (which had 60% of its assets in the US) for $3bn. They then loaded up the company with $3.2bn of debt, before IPOing it 9 months later. According to Forbes, this meant that by June 2005, Blackstone had achieved a return of $3.1bn in exchange for its original $650m stake, whilst retaining a significant equity stake in the company.
But the structure of the deal with China is different. German investors complained bitterly after the pyrotechnics with Celanese. China seems to have played its hand much more carefully.
Blackstone may still do well, but is acting more as a ‘hired hand’ than as an individual entrepreneur. BlueStar had initially intended to raise $300m in an Hong Kong IPO, but under Blackstone this will be deferred to the end of next year (probably no bad thing given the current problems in financial markets). Blackstone will also be charged with integrating BlueStar’s French holdings (Drakker and the silicone business bought from Rhodia), before grouping the assets for a listing.
It therefore gets to do all the work, whilst paying $500m upfront for the privilege. But China National Chemical will remain the biggest shareholder in the company, and so will still reap its share of any rewards that Blackstone may generate. Whilst China’s holding in Blackstone means it will also profit from the latter’s success.