SHANGHAI — China’s biggest Internet companies made 2015 the year of the deal, snapping up sports teams, logistics firms and financial and media companies.
Commonly known collectively as the “BAT,” Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent have long been the dominant forces in China’ search, social media and e-commerce spheres, a trend that looks set to continue as the three firms continue to make strategic acquisitions designed to consolidate their power.
“China’s tech industry is in the middle of a large consolidation as players push into new market segments to both grow new product and service revenue and to overcome slow growth and competition in their traditional businesses,” Zennon Kapron, managing director of Shanghai-based financial research firm Kapronasia, explained.
“The flurry of M&A activity in 2015 was largely a result of companies continuing to push into broader ancillary ‘platform services.’ So Baidu [is] leveraging search/big data to move into travel; Alibaba [is] continuing to move into lifestyle with acquisitions in entertainment, education and health,” he added.
According to data supplied by Dealogic, e-commerce leader Alibaba Group completed 34 mergers and acquisitions in 2015, with a total deal value of more than $19.3 billion. This represents a significant rise in the number of deals and the total value from 2014, when Alibaba completed 19 purchases valued at just over $6.5 billion.
In comparison, Tencent, the company behind China’s blockbuster WeChat social media app, completed 48 deals in 2015, valued at $17.1 billion, up from 27 deals valued at just over $7.2 billion in 2014.
Making up the triumvirate is Baidu, China’s dominant search engine, which closed 18 deals worth more than $2.2 billion in 2015, up from 10 deals valued at around $1.9 billion in 2014.
The investments were broad and wide-ranging, with some more immediately fitting than others.
For example, Alibaba’s $4.6 billion investment in leading Chinese electronics retailer Suning marks a major step in the e-commerce giant’s efforts to offer integrated online-to-offline, or O2O, services.
Likewise, Alibaba’s purchase of U.S.-listed Chinese online video provider Youku Tudou Inc. for $4.4 billion follows the company’s stated aim to expand its entertainment portfolio.
Both Alibaba and Tencent, bitter rivals with few alliances, invested in the state-owned Postal Savings Bank of China as part of a $7 billion deal, which demonstrates the desire of tech companies to further expand into the financial sector.
All three BAT members have now established some form of online banking. Baidu became the last of the three to make the step when it partnered with Citic Bank in November.
Also apparently on the radar of all three members of the BAT is the potential for taxi and car service apps in China, with Alibaba and Tencent both backing China’s homegrown player Didi Kuaidi with an investment of $2 billion apiece, and Baidu investing in the Chinese arm of Uber to the tune of $1.2 billion.
“In 2016, we will see a continuation of tech M&A activity although the deal size will likely be smaller as the big O2O and platform investment plays seem to be set. What will be increasingly important for these companies is international expansion,” Kapron said.