Peter Chun is the founder of Silverbear Capital, a globally positioned consulting and investment banking firm. Peter Chun has nearly 20 years of International finance expertise. He specialises in corporate restructuring, corporate finance, and M&A. He has worked with and represented companies of all sizes and configurations. He also brings listing experience in Korea, Toronto, Hong Kong, Frankfurt, and in the US, as well as experience in the private equity/ pre-IPO arena.
In our conversation we discuss:
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Disclaimer: Information contained in this podcast constitutes the opinions of individuals and should not be treated as: Investment, Tax, Financial, or Legal advice. We take no responsibility for the accuracy of any statements made in this podcast. This podcast is for informational and educational purposes only and it does not contain an offer to sell or buy any sort of financial products and should not be treated as advertisement for such. Any copying, distribution or reproduction of this podcast without the prior permission of the creators of this podcast is strictly prohibited.
[00:00:04] ANNOUNCER: Welcome to The Wall Street Lab podcast where we interview top financial professionals and deconstruct their practices to give you an insider look into the world of finance.
[00:00:23] LM: Hello and welcome to The Wall Street Lab podcast. My name is Luke. If you haven’t heard my voice in a while, that’s because Andy and Leo have been doing such an awesome job with releasing episodes. But now, I’m back and I’m bringing you an amazing episode on Asian M&A with none other than Peter Chun. He brings almost 20 years of international finance experience to the podcast. He is the founder of Silverbear Capital. He specializes in restructuring, corporate finance, M&A, and he’s worked and represented companies and investors in almost all configurations. He also brings listing experience in Korea, Toronto, Hong Kong, Frankfurt, US, as well as some private equity and pre-IPO experience.
In the episode, we’ve been talking about mostly M&A in China. We’ve also discussed some economic events such as the COVID-19 crisis. We’ve been talking about recent trends in M&A and financial markets, also discussing the differences between US M&A and Asian M&A and in the end focusing on some career-related questions, especially regarding the investment banking careers in Asia.
Now, if you like the content, please leave us a five-star review on Apple podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts and please remember, this is not investment advice for a disclaimer at the end of the podcast. Now, please enjoy our interview with Peter Chun.
[00:01:54] LM: Hello, everyone, and welcome to The Wall Street Lab podcast. Today on the line we have Peter Chun, the founder of Silverbear Capital. Hello, Peter, and welcome to the show.
[00:02:05] PC: Hello. How are you?
[00:02:07] LM: Very good, very good. How are you? Where are sitting right now? Where are you joining us from?
[00:02:11] PC: Well, I’m sitting in Hong Kong today at the office versus the frequent traveling that I’m usually doing without the virus. It’s good to be with my family a little bit more but, of course, we have the virus and a situation to cover as well.
[00:02:26] LM: Yeah, good. Maybe we can start where we usually start these interviews. We ask our guests about themselves. If you were to tell your story, so to say, and tell our audience how did you come to the point where you currently are and explain to them what it is that you do on a daily basis and in life in your position at the firm.
[00:02:51] PC: Okay. Well, we operate a firm called Silverbear Capital and we basically headquarter ourselves in Hong Kong. But surprisingly, 40% of our client is still US-Canadian-based. We probably see – I will probably say 30% of our clients is China-based since we’re leveraged from our Hong Kong platform and 30% the rest of the world. In the firm, we run basically center partnership systems just like other shops on the streets, so we have right now roughly around 56 partners in-house, and worldwide probably we have more than 150 to 200 people [inaudible 00:03:30] around cost right now, including China, of course.
We run an asset management business in the Cayman Island region and we also run our own private equity which we fund. We are pretty busy for the last five years. We have
on financing that we are doing for friendly countries to China, which we called the [inaudible 00:03:53] situation. Just on that basis, we are basically looking to deploy around $3 billion just on a rolling basis to do infrastructures, to build friendly projects in these what’s so called [inaudible 00:04:07] countries that are being called upon by Beijing.
I will probably say this business have kind of slowly built up to replace some of our M&A activities because in the past I would probably say 70% of our deal flow would be on a M&A basis more than just pure financing. That’s probably what we are doing currently.
[00:04:32] LM: Very interesting. Could you tell us a little bit more about the story of founding Silverbear Capital and how did you come to found the company?
[00:04:42] PC: Actually, we did not intend to actually start this company at all in the beginning, because in the very, very beginning we were involved actually in the entertainment side of the business rather. Later on, because there was a financial crisis in Hong Kong around 1998 where we actually pull some of our friend’s money to help some of the listed companies in Hong Kong, then I got to understand what stock market is all about. Then we became a little bit more active around 2001 and 2002 in the capital market situation in Hong Kong. But then it was a dealmaker situation still.
Then after 2006, whereby one of our existing partner retire from Citibank Hong Kong, came of a team of Citibank’s people. Then we started to function in a more investment bank format. But we try to do different stuff and then we got ourselves together finally around 2009 where we started to adapt the name Silverbear Capital.
[00:06:01] LM: Very interesting.
[00:06:01] PC: After that journey from 2009 to now which is, well, roughly around 11 years now, I will probably say we started things on Wall Street around 2011, and then the momentum picked up around 2014. Therefore, if you or anybody who’s listening to this broadcast will be able to go back on the Internet to kind of look at all the interviews that we’ve done since 2014 on Wall Street. So we cover from all the major financial channels on a daily basis from then. We’ve done well but we can do better. But the best thing for us on Wall Street is we have met many friends and the philosophy that we are carrying out is a little bit different to the other shops on the streets. The reason why is because we don’t compete. We only complement all the partners or friends that we work together on Wall Street.
[00:07:01] LM: How many people are you now?
[00:07:03] PC: 56 partners and non-partner around 150 people.
[00:07:10] LM: That’s quite fascinating to me. I find that founding ventures companies, especially in the space of investment banking and growing the company essentially from the early beginnings to what it is now, it’s quite a challenge and it’s been my personal view significantly harder than many other industries simply because the industry is so closed. But we would jump into the career advice and other aspects of entrepreneurship at the end of the conversation.
What we would like to focus on – Maybe we can switch up gears a little bit and focus a bit more on the Asian M&A market. First of all, most of our audience is coming from Europe, from the United States. Most of them are quite new to the Asian markets. We haven’t done many episodes on the Asian market, so we could treat this as kind of an introduction on some level to the Asian M&A investment banking world. To start off, maybe if you could tell us a little bit – You’ve been involved in deals in both the United States and Europe and in Asia. What are the biggest differences in your view in M&A transactions between US and Europe and Asia?
[00:08:23] PC: I would probably say the US end would look at the numbers a little bit more. When we tend to do what we call rollup in the US, it’s more kind of scientific. SO there is a framework and this structure that everybody goes by, and there is a way for us to foresee if the structure is going to work or not. In Asia, the nature of the retail investors actually are less focused in these what’s so called numbers and we often see that a lot of interesting projects or [inaudible 00:09:05] will not usually work in US. But because of their brands or because of their background, these deals tend to still do okay in Asia. So I think therefore we have tried to separate different deals for different market as a result.
[00:09:32] LM: That’s very interesting and it actually answers part of my next question regarding if there are any things and points that US companies or Asian companies would have to pay special attention to when doing a deal in the different markets. You mentioned the numbers. You mentioned also the focus on the branding in Asia. It’s quite interesting. Which countries in Asia are leading the M&A activity? Where do you see most of the activities taking place?
[00:10:00] PC: Well, I would probably say China for sure because of the GDP of their economy right now, I mean, and the size. As you can see, everybody was looking at Alibaba in the beginning of this year. That’s one example. I will probably say then the next runner-up would be regions like coming up with India. We are seeing big growth there with M&As. There is some good ones still in, say, Vietnam and Cambodia, but I would probably say the next one to look at right now is Indonesia. That’s coming up.
[00:10:44] LM: To transition into the next topic of trends in M&A in Asia, we have heard a lot about expected slowdowns in M&A in 2020 for multiple reasons, everything from trade disputes to excessive valuations and maybe most importantly to the recent situation with coronavirus. What are your expectations for the M&A markets and capital markets in Asia, given all of these aspects?
[00:11:12] PC: Well, we are seeing a lot of money switching from the retail to real estates back into the medical side. We are also seeing a lot of the interesting nonperforming medical companies are now being quite active, just because they’re in the industries. They are able to mobilize infantry’s to, say, needed countries. All of sudden, everybody kind of came alive. Now, I would probably still have a lot of confidence in the China region for the medical industries because, first of all, there’s a lot of room to grow and there is interesting transition right now, whereby companies are coming together to form an alliance to try to cover up the ecosystems that is not being operated properly for the last 10 years in China still. With the added value which the internal market is still growing, it’s attracting still a lot of foreign money and foreign resources in this region to go in, especially under the various systems that has been affecting the economy.
But, again, it’s also repairing some loopholes for countries like China, because before the virus came in, nobody really looked at the systems. Now, after the virus came through, the country itself, the populations and the commercial companies or corporate companies, they are involved in the systems and now are really looking to improve how they can do better. This is actually the good side and the bad side of the after effect of the rise which we are basically seeing today.
[00:12:56] LM: Obviously, as an effect of the virus, we also see a lot of companies go bankrupt because they are not able to sustain their activity in the spirit of quarantine. What does that mean for essentially the M&A environment? Will we see a lot more consolidation, larger players buying out the small companies that were not able to hold out? Or are they also taking a more cautious approach to acquiring businesses now?
[00:13:22] PC: Well, I think everybody is being more cautious overall because I think the markets, especially at the beginning of this year, there is quite a large drop point in history for the stock market. Therefore, I think a lot of the money managers, I think a lot of the asset managers or even retail investors are becoming a little bit more sensitive to where they put their money to. Now, however, if you do look at how the capital market has been evolving, it’s very interesting that the liquidity of the market is still there even after there is such drop or even if you want to call it a crash. Although they are very cautious about putting money into things now, but we’re seeing that the willingness to transform their portfolio is still very much there.
[00:14:21] LM: We are talking – We’ll jump over again to another topic because we’ve been talking now about the reaction to the crisis at hand. Many people point a line to the financial crisis of 2008 as a potential fallout, potential outcome of the current crisis. However, there is a lot of opposing opinions because, of course, the underlying reason for the crisis is completely different and, of course, the reaction to the crisis will also be different. In some cases, some people believed that it will be more severe. Some people believe it will be less severe end result and completely different outcomes. What would your opinion be on the similarities and differences between these two different crisis types, so to say?
00:15:11] PC: Well, I mean, maybe we can relook at what had happened in 2008. From my memory, the stock market crash of 2008 actually occurred around September 29th, 2008 whereby Dow Jones Industrial Average fell to a very, very low points. I think around 777, around there. Then now, until this year, again, there is a very large point drop in history. Now, at that time, the market crash I think majorly because Congress rejected the bank bailout bill. But the stress that lead to the crash has been building for a very long time from my opinion, because we are looking at around October in 2007 where the Dow Jones had its prerecession high and closed at around 14,000 points. By March 5th, 2009, it dropped more than 50 to like 6,000 or 500 points. It’s a very vicious drop. Although compared to the Great Depression, it’s still not the largest drop but it’s a really, really killing situation.
Of course, there was repairman strategies, so Lehman decided to declare bankruptcies right after this. A lot of job losses. Then the Obama’s economy [inaudible 00:16:43] kicked in. But before it kicked in, obviously there’s a wide nation in recession in the US, and that affects sort of EU, China because everybody is really basically linked together. After Obama’s plan, then the stock market file is slowly recovering. That’s the aftermath. That’s basically what had happened during those times in short.
Then I would say what had happened this year in my opinion is I think the stock market crash of 2020, in my opinion began on March 9th this year with history largest point plugged for the Dow Jones Industrial Average up to date. It was followed by two more [inaudible 00:17:31] points dropped on March 12 and March 16. The stock market crash include the three worst points drop in US history, not just to say the least. Because of the virus, there was a global fear that the virus is uncontained, leading to oil price drops and an aftermath looming sessions.
There is all these things that I think that is clouding the market in a very unsettle way for most of the investors and population that has involved, and I will probably compare this probably, say, to the black Monday around October 19th I think, around 1987. We have a very similar situation at that time as well. Although this is, again, another record high for the drop because the nature of the virus situation, nobody can predict correct aftermath of how this is going to recovered up to today. Rather than when in the last situation around 2008, again, with the Lehman situation there is a calculator pole aftermath because you can exactly see what the problem is and how they’re going to repair the problem by scheduling a legitimate bankruptcy and how everybody would be able to look through or see through the loopholes or the missing component in the economy.
But versus the virus today, nobody until now will be able to kind of predict what it will look like, say, in three months’ time and if it’s going to get worse or if the virus is going to be transformed into another virus that we have to fight or simply this is going to be a long hold battle between the nature and human, simply because even though we are so much advanced in technologies and healthcare right now for everybody in the world, simply we can’t even fight a very simple fever or maybe a cold or flu. I think there is a big question mark as to how deadly this virus can continue to affect us, not even on an economy scale but I think it is affecting micro and macro pictures as well now.
If I am a investors looking at something like this right now, it’s very difficult to predict an aftermath versus what had happened at the Lehman age.
[00:20:31] LM: With that in mind, it’s interesting because I also believe that it will take some time before all of the differences in expectations are priced then and, of course, all of the businesses going bankrupt and the people filing for unemployment, etc. It will take – There will be a significant lag before we see the effects on the real economy. With that in mind, which sectors would you say will be the most heavily affected in the crisis and which sectors would you expect the subjectivity to increase taking the, of course, the perspective of M&A professional when you’re looking at the companies. Where do you expect the M&A activity to increase?
[00:21:14] PC: First, I think we should relook at the real estate’s portfolio anybody’s got. I think that’s where it really first hit hard. Then you will see the retail, including – You will see shopping malls, restaurants, anything that has a retail component. That is another hit. With those two in mind, then came the good side of the stuff, whereby we are looking into anything with an online component, anything with a seller attached component those who do good. Therefore, we are aggressively looking into those categories of companies right now.
As you can imagine, people stop going out to eat or maybe reduced the number of times they’re going out to eat versus they started to go online, order food, take away, and eat home. You will probably see that you no longer be able to kind of shop around and spend five hours on the street trying to look for a present for your loved one. But instead you might again go online and select a gift for your friend instead. These are I think the changing habits of the population, and therefore we convert this back to, say, a commercial sense when we go and look out for companies to go after with.
[00:22:42] LM: Now to maybe switch gears a little bit again back to the Asian economy and the relationship with United States and Europe. There have been some problems recently also before the corona crisis, including essentially trade deals and now with the corona crisis and everything going on. What do you think is the future of the US/Europe and Asian relations? I believe mostly we’re referring here to the Chinese relationship with US and Europe. What do you think is the path moving forward and what does that mean for the M&A and capital market’s activity?
[00:23:23] PC: Well, I think the trade talks has been a very interesting topic for the last I would probably say close to a year now but not full year. You’re seeing both side has
laid their cards on the table and tried to play them out. Luckily, because of the nature of the trade talk, they have to settle somewhere in between as we all know. But because of the interlink between two superpower right now, it is very difficult decisions for one to say which is actually going to be more advantageous to the other party comparing to, say, a decision that has to be made to regain some simple trade balance.
Now, first of all, because there is a set of rules laid upon the WTO a long time ago to structure a framework for countries to work with countries under some structure that has been agreed upon that what’s so-called fair. Now, the trade talk has obviously started without even looking back at the WTO commitment from people or countries. But, of course, not looking at the commitment doesn’t mean they don’t respect them but simply basically the [inaudible 00:24:50] has been moved. But because there’s so much buying power from US buying Chinese-manufactured products and some of the companies are actually operating from US in China across the board just say one name that is significant, which is to say that the iPhone.
Now, if you change the import and export tariffs to try to correct trade balance, actually high taxpayers like iPhones or Apple are going to be immediately be looking into other options which they hope to be able to settle down with such uncalibrated tariff policies because it’s basically before predicting the correct tariff policies that’s going to happen, it’s impossible for a company like this to kind of plan ahead with their financial statements, the projections, and how they should strategize their manufacturing locations, say, from China or even go outside of China. We are seeing that sometimes these talks should be talk first then impulse or impulse then talk. Why is this interesting? Because we are seeing both sides are basically imposing different tariffs on each other first. Then they try to talk themselves out of the game. It’s right now around April now. Up to date, I will see there is already significant losses from both end.
Now, the interesting thing why I say it’s interesting, because we have always looked at the EU when it comes to trade talks, because China is actually not US because trade partners. The trade partners for US is actually EU, and it’s very interesting why US is not fighting this with EU but instead fighting with China. Because of the fighting, EU and China have in my opinion been more cooperative than ever because of what’s happening. So I would sometimes try to explain to people that has significant investments in US that maybe we needed to look into EU more in these times, rather than US, because then I think who will benefit from the situation would probably be the EU rather than US. It looks like it’s a US-China thing, but from eye it’s actually a tri-party thing and actually EU is gaining from what’s happening.
[00:27:55] LM: Let’s jump to more career-oriented questions. I’m sure that we have a lot of listeners interested in essentially a career path in investment banking, M&A financial markets in Asia. What would you say is the difference between a typical investment banking career path in the US as we know how it goes, analyst, associate, vice president, partner? Of course, different companies will have different structures. How does that path look in Asia in general, and what are the differences to the typical US investment banking path?
[00:28:31] PC: I would probably say the difference is that in Asia, the M&A career would be actually – How can I put it? I think, well, it looks like you’re actually in Asia doing M&A and you’re kind of walking through a career. But actually, most of the people I would probably say 40%. Not a lot but 40% is still US format for a lot of the people in Asia. I will say then 60% is pure Asia-Asia. That’s the first statement I want to kind of make.
Now, therefore let’s talk about the 60%, which is Asia-Asia. The Asia-Asia M&A career would look like that you are actually – You’re a investment banker but you will have to be able to kind of ensure yourself that you are very ready to be China-orientated just because most of the resources or interesting companies are from China. But when you’re in China, you cannot purely rely on rules that you’re taught by because of the legal systems, because how people are doing business in China. There is always some surprises for these bankers in the M&A industries that in the ordinary environment would not happen just because of the nature the China economy and how it has evolved. Versus when you’re doing a career in M&A in US or other places, there is already a very set of rigid rules people will follow. So it’s kind of a very normal career that you will be encountering with. You build with your career. You do deals bigger than the other ones slowly, slowly, slowly, and you kind of just, “Oh.” Then you just out beat yourself andbecame a mature banker as you walk through your career.
In Asia, the surprises came in a good way and a bad way. You will have very young bankers given a certain opportunity that look not promising that they ended up in a very, very high position with the deals. Or you have, say, a very, very promising deal with the right people, names, everything but failed due to certain aspects. That’s kind of I think the difference in-between when you are trying to pursue a career in this M&A side of things in Asia versus that you’re going to do the same thing in US. For me, I would probably say that we should start in US. But when you get boring, then you should come to Asia and have a look.
[00:31:58] LM: That’s interesting. On that point, what would you recommend for people from Europe and the US to do if they would like to work in investment banking in Asia? What are some things that they could do to be more successful? Let’s say I am an analyst in an investment bank in Europe or the US. I would like to go to Asia. What should I do? Should I learn some skills? Should I learn the language? What would you recommend would be my next steps if I would like to go to Asia and work in investment banking?
[00:32:30] PC: Generally, we often offer internships to a lot of the, say, people. Actually, we are doing some internships this year with some EU students as well. Actually, they are from Germany. Usually, when you do interns, you start to meet people usually in Hong Kong and most people in Hong Kong speak English, so there is no communication downside. They will lead you then into, say, some language skill sets. If you decided to learn a little bit of hopefully Mandarin but not Chinese and Cantonese, because in Hong Kong most of the people speak Cantonese. In china, they speak Mandarin.
I’m seeing a lot more people kind of picking up the Mandarin language from US and EU. Then I think the language would not be a problem. I think it’s understanding the culture is important, how the Chinese are going to enter into the meeting, how are they going to kind of position the way of thinking, and what would be the right time to offer a particular terms is what you all want that I would usually urge them to learn or maybe, well, to kind of hopefully follow somebody who is doing the same thing but actually learn from them these skill sets, which I just talked about because doing the M&A game in China is not so difficult after all.
But I think if you are able to pick up, as I said, the right timing for things and when that timing was correct, usually things are not that difficult for most of the bankers as I see, even though they don’t have to be extremely experiences in China. But I see there is so much opportunity that the EU friends of mine, the US friends of mine are still doing pretty well in China because of what I’ve just explained.
[00:34:31] LM: Thank you. That’s a very useful piece of advice. Before we finish, I would like to go back to the topic that we were discussing in the beginning and that is founding your own company in the fintech space. Would you have any – Maybe you could tell us a little bit, what were some of the biggest roadblocks that you found on the way of growing your company and pursuing entrepreneurship, and what would be some tips for founders who are interested in founding a company in the space of investment banking and M&A that you could share that could help them on their journey?
[00:35:09] PC: As I said, I think one of the important philosophy that I have always tried to promote is that we complement our partners in-house or non-in-house, rather than to compete them, because when you are working for large shops, the competition in that space is aggressive because actually I bumped into a lot of these situations before, whereby even the same shop has four different bankers approaching the same deal. So we try to work from the other end, whereby we try to complement the deal rather than trying to compete with all the other bankers.
Second thing is value-add. We usually go in not because we go in and provide a financial engineering solution to the deal, but we tried to come up with a plan whereby there is a aftermath plan that we are going to put together that would allow the existing investors or owner of the companies be able to enjoy a comfortable return or even an exit without asking themselves what happened after the M&A. So we usually provided a mix of strategy already at the point of the M&A for people. So I think that’s another thing that we should look into to allow the client to think or feel that we are actually coming in with something more than just investment banking, because usually investment banking job is to put together the money, trying to satisfy the client’s immediate need. But actually, there is no tool being provided to the client to ensure that they will perform and we tried to provide this piece of tool at all time so that there is a very high chances for that client to perform, and therefore the investors that rebring it into the M&A at that M&A time would also enjoy the good return safely. I think that that’s something that we all should try to do with our clients in these industries.
[00:37:53] LM: Perfect. Peter, thank you very much for your time. It’s been a pleasure talking to you, and I hope to stay in touch.
[00:38:00] PC: Yes, thank you. It’s a pleasure speaking to you too.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
[00:38:06] ANNOUNCER: Thank you for listening to The Wall Street Lab podcast. For the show notes and much more, visit us at www.thewallstreetlab.com to see what we’re up to before anyone else. Subscribe to our newsletter on our website and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.
[00:38:37] LM: Disclaimer. Information contained in this podcast constitutes the opinions of individuals and should not be treated as investment, tax, financial, or legal advice. We take no responsibility for the accuracy of any statements made in this podcast. This podcast is for informational and educational purposes only, and it does not contain an offer to sell or buy any sort of financial products and should not be treated as advertisement for such. Any copying, distribution, or reproduction of this podcast without the prior permission of the creators of the podcast is strictly prohibited.