When we called for submissions for our FinanceAsia Achievement Awards 2022 back in September last year, we could not have imagined that events would have moved so fast.
Covid-19 recovery, supply chain disruption and global geopolitical shocks have all been the hallmark challenges of 2022, and each is set to intensify further in 2023.
The themes that emerged in this awards year were not simply resilience – the ability to double down in a crisis, after all, is part of sound financial management everywhere – but the capacity to seize opportunities, too.
Now in our 26th edition, the quality of the awards submissions improves year on year, and more than 600 high-calibre case studies and presentations showcased the very best from Asia Pacific’s financial markets, displaying ingenuity in the face of unprecedented headwinds.
Those investors, asset owners and financial houses that showed a talent for not only sitting out a crisis but turning it to their advantage, were the kind of submissions that won our prestigious awards.
In addition to congratulating the winners, we would also like to thank the jurors and advisors who helped us with decision on the banks, brokers, law firms and rating agencies that were shortlisted and selected.
Tony Adams – Managing partner, R66 Capital
Sandeep Aggarwal – Independent strategic-cum-financial advisor
Agnes Chen – Managing director APAC, CSC Global
Sandy Gilles – Market education consultant, First Metro Securities
BK How – Regional managing director, Ofisgate
Philip Lee – Corporate, M&A, international capital markets partner, DLA Piper
Richard Liao – Chief executive officer, Hwahsia Glass
Patrick Ng – Group treasurer, RGE Group
David Morton – Non-executive chairman, Helsinki Foundation Asia Pacific
Vivek Sharma – Head of international clients group, Nuvama Group
Rocky Tung – Director and head of policy research, Financial Services Development Council (FSDC)
Sangeeta Venkatesan – Non-executive director and investor, FairVine Super; former chief operating officer, Commonwealth Bank of Australia and Nomura
Read on for details of the winners we selected for the House Awards Asia category.
BEST CREDIT RATINGS AGENCY: Fitch Ratings
In the APAC region, there’s hardly a category in which Fitch Ratings has not excelled. From thought leadership to best-in-class investor relations, to having one of the most cogent and timely media presences, Fitch has kept its position as the go-to credit rating agency in Asia.
“Fitch has outperformed its credit rating peers in almost every aspect,” judges said of this submission.
As a market leader in Asia, its strong on-the-ground presence gave it the edge over its rivals. It is the only credit rating agency with 21 offices, and more than 500 analysts in 11 markets.
Furthermore it is the only international credit rating agency (CRA) with offices in Bangkok, Colombo and Jakarta, and the only agency with analysts based in and focussing on South Korea.
Covering 65% of APAC, Fitch has become the agency of choice for first-time issuers in the region. Its closest rivals, Moody’s and S&P, have a footprint of 56% and 23%, respectively.
However, it was its presence in China that impressed judges.
It has more analysts in China (Beijing and Shanghai) than any other international agency and is the only international CRA with a team of six full-time analysts dedicated exclusively to China-related macro and industry research.
The first to open a representative office in Beijing in 1997, it has maintained its leading position ever since and remains the preferred rating agency for first-time Chinese issuers. In terms of market share for first time cross-border Chinese bond deals, it is a stand-out number one, leading its rivals by more than 25% in terms of deals.
In other important sectors, such as the all-important non-financial state-owned enterprises (SOEs) segment, Fitch provides the most transparent scoring system for assessing government support.
Similarly, Fitch is the preferred agency by Chinese non-financial SOEs and their bond investors, commanding the largest market share by number of deals.
As for the future, Fitch is well placed. Fitch rated the largest share of green bonds issued by the Chinese corporate sector: one of the strongest growth sectors in the Chinese financial landscape.
BEST DEBT HOUSE AND BEST SYNDICATED LOAN HOUSE: HSBC
HSBC has kept a steady hand through some of the most challenging market conditions in living memory and was a clear winner in both our Best Debt House and Best Syndicated Loan House categories.
“HSBC has consistently demonstrated high-calibre execution strategies that have assisted pan-Asia markets,” the judging panel said of its Best Debt House submission.
HSBC has one of the most enviable platforms in the region and in terms of the G3 markets – bonds denominated in US dollars, yen, or euro – it has kept its market-leading position.
However, it’s not just the G3 space in which HSBC has excelled. Critically, it has identified opportunities in the local currency and private placement markets.
At an early stage this year, HSBC identified the volatility in G3 markets (volumes are down 46% this year) and the complementary nature of local currency and private placements markets (volumes are up 32% this year).
The bank was uniquely placed to help issuers capitalise on the emerging theme of balancing G3 and local currency/private placement markets to achieve better overall funding outcomes.
This unique ability to deliver nimble funding options in challenging markets impressed judges and has kept the lender at the top, or near the top of league tables, throughout 2021/22.
HSBC took leadership roles on more jumbo G3 transactions than any of its rivals by a significant margin. It was appointed as joint global coordinator or equivalent for seven tranches of the 10 largest G3 transactions in the awards period, nearly double the number of its closest competitor.
Importantly, HSBC acted as ESG structuring bank on four of the 10 largest G3 transactions in the awards period.
Judges, meanwhile, had no difficulty in awarding Best Syndicated Loan House to HSBC. “This is the winner, period,” was all the judging panel had to say about this comprehensive and impressive submission.
Despite growing conservatism amongst lenders, HSBC showed unwavering support by underwriting more transactions. HSBC stepped up, ensuring continued capital markets access for key sponsor and corporate borrowers in affected sectors, providing liquidity to debut borrowers and winning sole mandates on landmark transactions.
The number of repeat mandates also underscored the recognition received for HSBC’s track record of excellent solution delivery.
Besides providing liquidity from a diverse investor base, HSBC influenced regional distribution trends, notably by spearheading syndication for HCP’s leveraged buyout (LBO) facility, closing the first US term loan B (TLB) fully distributed within Asia amid significant dislocation in the US institutional loan market.
HSBC prioritised sustainability and led deals that constituted over 40% of ESG-related loans volumes.
The bank also displayed a growing presence and continued diversification of business mix. This included breakthroughs across previously under-represented markets including Malaysia, Philippines and Taiwan, whilst maintaining its leadership in North Asia.
BEST EQUITY HOUSE AND BEST M&A HOUSE: Goldman Sachs
The Asian M&A market may have been one of the most resilient and gravity-defying sectors in the region, but equity markets in 2022 have posed bigger problems. More than any other lender, however, Goldman Sachs (GS) has been more than equal to putting its mark on some of the region’s biggest deals.
Judges agreed that it was Goldman’s leadership in both these sectors that clinched it the awards for Best Equity House and Best M&A House.
“Goldman is definitely one of the best houses for its pan-Asian coverage,” the judging panel said of this comprehensive submission. “Its ability to find unique solutions for its clients’ needs pan-Asia remains unparalleled.”
From IPOs to more complex equity-linked deals, GS has continued to keep its repeat blue-chip clients through the public market lifecycle, despite at times frothy and turbulent conditions.
Following a record 2021 year, and despite a limited and diminishing investor appetite, GS continued to be the advisor to the most high-profile equity deals in a highly challenging environment.
With more than 40% market share, GS is unrivalled in Asia ex-Japan as a structured equity house.
Some of its landmark deals in the awards period have included ZTO Express’s $1 billion convertible notes offering, Lenovo’s $675 million convertible bonds, and China Meidong Auto’s $165 million accelerated bookbuild.
While M&A activity globally might be down off the highs of 2021 due to a tougher credit environment – fuelled by a cocktail of rising rates, slow growth and recession fears – M&A dealmaking in 2022 still matched pre-pandemic levels.
This was especially notable in a time of great uncertainty.
GS led the pack in 2022, helping merger and acquisition clients skirt spiking inflation, supply chain issues, skittish capital markets and regulatory changes.
“Goldman had very impressive credentials across multiple dimensions: types of deals, geography across APAC, industry, size, products, client type (either sponsors, FIG or industrials),” the judging panel said.
Goldman tapped a growing demand in 2022 for bespoke and innovative financing solutions from clients taking advantage of the change of tempo in M&A deals to take their time to really understand the drivers of their target assets.
GS delivered with superior advisory, leveraging the firm’s global access to execute many of the region’s landmark M&A transactions including HDFC Bank’s S$60.6 billion merger and Baring Private Equity Asia’s $7.4 billion merger with EQT Holdings.
In terms of cross-border M&A transactions for multinational corporations, market defining deals such as Reliance Industries’ $771 million acquisition of REC Solar Holdings, Everest Medicines’ $455 million sale to Gilead Sciences and Boston Scientific’s $226 million acquisition of MI Tech all showed the Goldman stamp.
With unrivalled leadership in executing FIG and sponsors M&A transactions too, Goldman was a clear, standout choice for judges in this category.
BEST INVESTMENT BANK: UBS
UBS has taken a leading role in multiple market-defining transactions this year and judges were impressed by the sheer range of platforms it commands across the region.
“UBS has proven again to be comprehensive in DCM, ECM and M&A despite the difficult capital market environment,” judges said of this year’s submission from the investment bank.
In a difficult year for capital markets, UBS was the top ECM bookrunner in Hong Kong and the top international bank for overseas primary offerings by Chinese companies, while maintaining its strength in Southeast Asian equity issuance.
UBS was also a leader on key benchmark bonds for sovereign issuers such as the Philippines government, the Korea Development Bank (KDB) and the Airport Authority of Hong Kong, arranging many investment-grade and hybrid transactions.
In terms of M&A, its noteworthy deals included advising on de-SPACs, on the Philippines’ two largest telecom tower sale and leaseback transactions, as well as on mobility tech company, ECARX’s $3.4 billion merger with SPAC, COVA Acquisition Corp.
Other landmark transactions included being the sole financial advisor to Joffre Capital in relation to the acquisition of a 25.7% stake in Playtika Holding Corp, in a landmark cross-border transaction worth $2.2 billion.
It was also the sole financial advisor to Artisan Acquisition Corp. in relation to the proposed business combination with Prenetics Group, the first de-SPAC of a Hong Kong-based company worth $1.7 billion.
In terms of high-profile IPOs, UBS helped successfully price China Tourism Group Duty Free’s Hong Kong IPO at HK$158 per share, to raise $2.34 billion in the largest retail IPO in Asia and globally for the past 11 years.
International bank league tables show UBS to be in the top five in APAC, Asia ex-Japan, and Southeast Asia. However, its seven market-defining deals in China have put it at the top of the list with $9.4 billion in deals.
Overall, judges were impressed by a comprehensive submission that highlighted the many market-defining transactions that are carrying the UBS stamp.
BEST ISLAMIC FINANCE HOUSE: CIMB Group
Combining the tenets of shariah banking with sustainable investing is an exciting proposition for Islamic finance, and CIMB is leading the way with landmark deals and products in the region. For awards judges, CIMB’s submission was an easy choice.
“CIMB would be among the best-known providers of Islamic solutions in Southeast Asia,” one panel judge said.
During the award period, CIMB successfully launched and priced the world’s largest ever US dollar-denominated green sukuk tranche and the first sustainability sukuk from the highway sector in Malaysia.
Post-Covid-19, too, CIMB is positioning itself for recovery with a special focus on SMEs.
Key Islamic shariah-compliant products helping SMEs to sustain their businesses included: CIMB Payment Assistance Programme for SMEs, SME Quick Biz Plus-i (SQB Plus-i), and the Targeted Relief and Recovery Facility (TRRF).
In terms of consumer banking, the Islamic banking business overall continues to grow, with the sector holding 39% of Malaysian deposits. CIMB says it is on to hit its target of 50% share of the book by 2024.
CIMB Islamic Bank has been championing green banking through its EcoSave Savings Account-i. Apart from being an environmentally friendly account that operates without a passbook and promotes paperless transactions, CIMB Islamic also contributes 0.2% of the account’s total average portfolio balances to environmental activities.
CIMB Islamic has continued to maintain and enhance its products and services throughout 2022, keeping a keen focus on the bank’s social role in terms of community outreach and targeted assistance.
Ultimately, the bank’s ambition is to become a leading lender in ASEAN through the Islamic finance ecosystem. As demand for shariah-compliant banking continues to grow, CIMB is well placed to achieve that goal.
BEST ISSUER – CORPORATE: PTT Global Chemical Public Company
Robust execution, exceeding targets and close communication with the corporate team, this deal – the first US dollar deal announced by a Thai issuer in 2022 – showed all the hallmarks of a Standard Chartered assist.
“Overall a successful deal with a great outcome” – panel judges had little more to add on what was a strong and cogent submission.
The largest issue size ever for a non-sovereign Thai issuer at $1.3 billion, exceeding its 2021 transaction of $1.25 billion, this transaction marked a strong return to the US dollar bond markets by PTT Global Chemical Public Company (PTTGC).
Again, deals like this are all about timing and Standard Chartered, as joint lead managers and joint bookrunners, kept up the engagement to make sure the deal hit the best possible window.
At the first signs of relative stability, PTTGC accessed the markets riding the wake of successful sovereign bond issuances by the Republic of Philippines and Republic of Indonesia in the days leading up to the issuance.
Against a backdrop of market volatility driven by the Russia-Ukraine war, US rate hike rhetoric and global inflationary pressures, the transaction was well-supported by high-quality institutional investors who were familiar with PTTGC’s credit quality.
The transaction was announced with an initial price guidance of T+260bps area for the 10-year, and T+310bps area for the 30-year following investor calls.
Demand was exceptionally robust with orderbooks exceeding $1.7 billion within just one hour of book building. As Asian investors built strong momentum in the early hours of book opening, steadily swelling the orderbook, it allowed for significant price compression of 40-45bps from its initial price guidance (IPG) across both the tranches.
The final orderbooks were more than $6.5 billion, around five times oversubscribed.
This transaction marked a deepening of the relationship that Standard Chartered has cultivated with PTTGC over the years and bodes well for any future issuances off the MTN programme.
Other lead manager and bookrunners on this deal included ANZ, BofA Securities, BNP Paribas, Citigroup, Deutsche Bank and HSBC.
BEST ISSUER – ESG: ENN Energy
“Successful execution with a quality offering to the market,” was how award judges described this deal which raised $550 million for ENN Energy, one of the largest clean energy distributors in China.
With its green finance framework already in place, ENN adhered to its established ESG principles to successfully issue these green senior notes in May.
With the net proceeds allocated exclusively to finance the company’s eligible green projects in four categories: renewable energy, pollution prevention, sustainable water management, and green buildings, the issue was promoted to more than 100 global investors.
This allowed these leading global investment institutions to get a comprehensive understanding of ENN Energy’s business development and competitive advantages, particularly with regard to its latest ESG performance.
To do this, the company overcame a series of volatility factors and challenges – rising interest rates as well as fluctuations within the stock and bond markets to achieve a rating of Baa1 by Moody’s, BBB by S&P, and BBB+ by Fitch.
Fitch said ENN Energy’s ratings were underpinned by its strong business profile and credit metrics, proved by solid gas sales growth as well as the rapid development of its integrated energy and value-added businesses in 2021, despite pressure on the retail gas sales margin from high gas prices.
ENN Energy, it said, had signed contracts with 261 customers, totalling 114.5 terawatt hours (TWh) in energy demand. This was in addition to its existing 52 industrial park customers, ensuring fast growth in coming years.
Ultimately, the rating agency said, the outlook is bright for integrated energy in China.
Upon issuance, it was the first 144A or SEC-registered overseas bonds from China (excluding sovereign bonds) in nine months and the largest overseas bond sale by a private enterprise in China this year.
Jointly cooperating with global coordinators, bookrunners and lead managers such as HSBC, Morgan Stanley, and Citigroup, the bookkeeping and pricing was successfully arranged.
BEST ISSUER – FINANCIAL INSTITUTION: Korea Housing Finance Corporation
As the first ever Swiss franc-covered bond issuance from an Asian issuer, judges were impressed by an innovative deal that successfully expanded Korea Housing Finance Corporation’s (KHFC) currency reach from US dollar and euro to Swiss franc as well.
As sole bookrunner on this deal, UBS navigated a series of negative drivers, chief among them rate hikes from global central banks, a war in Central Europe and the UK’s financial crisis.
The CHF300 million ($325 million) dual-tranche (CHF160 million 3-year bond, CHF140 million 5-year bond) social covered bond offering for KHFC headed into bookbuilding during Swiss open with an IPG of Swiss Average Rate Overnight (SARON) MS (mid-swaps) +35-40bps for 3-year and SARON MS+40-45bps for the 5-year, along with size indication of min CHF100m per each respective tranche.
Garnering robust demand from investors to complete the bookbuild in under two hours, the issuance received solid orders across both tranches from a highly diverse Swiss investor pool.
Ultimately, KHFC was able to launch with an upsized offer of CHF300 million.
KHFC’s successful issuance proves yet again the Swiss franc market’s accessibility for high-profile Korean issuers and has helped to cement the corporation’s international reputation as one of the leaders in the covered bond market.
KHFC plans to use the proceeds to provide affordable housing in Korea in the form of mortgage loans.
BEST ISSUER – SOVEREIGN: China Ministry of Finance
With what judges described as “great execution across three tranches of this sovereign bond”, this deal was a testament to UBS’ ever-strengthening China franchise.
A three-tranche €4billion ($4.3 billion) sovereign senior bond offering by the Ministry of Finance (MOF) of the People’s Republic of China, the transaction was the third consecutive euro bond mandate that UBS – which acted as joint bookrunner and joint lead manager – has received from China MOF.
Achieving a negative new issue premium of around -10bps, the issue of 3-year, 7-year and 12-year tranches successfully redefined MOF’s euro curve in a choppy market environment that has paved the way for other Chinese issuers to raise funds in the euro bond market.
The 3-year tranche was priced flat to mid-swaps (MS) for the first time and achieved the lowest yield among that of MOF’s offshore bond issuances.
The orderbook came out of the gate strong and reached over €12.2 billion before European open. It continued to grow with very strong support from high-quality European investors, peaking at more than €18.5 billion before final pricing guidance (FPG).
The strong orderbook allowed the issuer to tighten the FPG for three tranches by 20bps/20bps/13bps respectively and successfully priced the 3-year tranche at MS+0bps; the 7-year tranche at MS+20bps; the 12-year tranche at MS+52bps, achieving the issuer’s targets on both size and price.
Reflecting investor enthusiasm, China’s $4 billion sovereign dollar bond issuance the month prior to this drew bids worth six times the amount on offer. The bonds were also sold at record-low spreads for such issuance.
Beijing has been issuing sovereign bonds offshore with increasing regularity in a bid to integrate China more closely into the global financial system and to build a price benchmark for overseas issuance of Chinese corporate bonds.
It conducted similar euro bond sales last year and in 2020, when Beijing sold its first euro-denominated government debt in 15 years.
BEST LAW FIRM: Linklaters
Linklaters is unparalleled in Asia as a byword for excellence and award judges found little standing in the way of an impressive submission.
Strong portfolio, diverse client sets and generally great executions on high-profile deals,” was how award judges described a law firm that has become the first choice for leading corporates, government entities and investment banks.
Offering in-depth legal and commercial knowledge on a range of products, over the past 12 months the firm has worked on ground-breaking deals in Asia.
In terms of debt capital markets, that includes the MOF of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) on its RMB3 billion sovereign bond offering in Macao, MOF’s €4 billion sovereign bond offering, and its $4 billion Rule 144A/Reg S sovereign bonds offering.
In all, Linklaters has had MOF as a client for more than a decade, a testament to the confidence the law firm has built up in its time operating in the PRC.
ECM has also been a ripe harvest of high-profile deals for the lawyers as has Islamic finance, project finance and venture capital/private equity. However, it’s in the red-hot sector of M&As that Linklaters has shown the breadth and depth of its Asia experience.
Augmented by its ability to call on leading practitioners locally, regionally and globally in acquisition finance, employment, competition and antitrust, regulatory and all other areas of law relevant to M&A transactions, Linklaters has notched up some significant transactions over the past year.
It advised Citi on the sale of its five consumer banking franchises in Southeast Asia, advised on the $24 billion proposed amalgamation of True Corporation Public Company Limited (True) with Total Access Communication (Dtac) to create a new company, and advised Siam Makro (Makro), Thailand’s leading wholesale business, on its group restructuring by way of entire business transfer.
Linklaters is consistently recognised as one of the leading firms for complex, cross-border and domestic corporate transactions in Asia and was a standout in the Best Law Firm award category.
As one impressed client commented: “Linklaters has a significant advantage in that they have experience in almost all Asia markets and have local country knowledge they can also draw from as needed.”
BEST PROJECT FINANCE HOUSE: DBS Bank
DBS Bank’s commitment to green energy in Asia caught the eye of judges who were impressed by a comprehensive and well-presented submission that highlighted the bank’s leading role in the transition to net zero.
“DBS has consistently enjoyed a stellar global reputation as an innovative, forward-looking and stable financial house,” the judging panel said. “The material submitted displayed structure and system in its approach, strategy and tactics (along with clear mandates) that makes DBS stand out from the crowd.”
“With regional deals its main staple, DBS has a clear focus and commitment in Asia.”
DBS maintains this market lead in the Asia Pacific through 20 financial advisory mandates and has 15 mandates under execution. These mandates span six geographies and industries such as renewables, oil and gas, power (gas-fired), metals and mining and others (water utilities, transportation and infrastructure).
These are varied mandates from both established and new companies which reflect DBS’ capabilities and its ability to originate bespoke solutions.
The bank closed an aggregate of 29 deals during the awards period, supporting a transition towards a net zero approach through its advisory and lending deals throughout the value chain.
Key deals during this period have included the Taiya Renewables deal for a 500MW offshore wind farm in Indonesia in which DBS acted as the financial advisor to Taiya Renewable Energy (TRE) – a Taiwan home-grown renewable developer – for the bid submission in round 3 offshore wind project auctions in Taiwan.
DBS was also the buyside financial advisor for the Nebras acquisition of a stake in a 584MW gas-fired power plant in Bangladesh.
DBS – as with all of its regional projects – was able to evaluate the bankability of the project, identify risk issues, strategise negotiations and support the investment approval process.
BEST SUSTAINABLE FINANCE HOUSE: CITIC Securities
Keeping a sustainable finance practice in robust health during normal economic times is one thing; managing to keep the pipeline of deals and investments in full flow when the going gets tough is an entirely different matter.
CITIC Securities – the Chinese full-service investment bank – not only kept its operations afloat during a difficult period, but was central to some of the biggest sustainable finance deals in China for more than a decade during the awards period.
The ability to prosper in the face of adversity impressed panel judges.
“As one of the leading global and local brokerage and investment banks, CITIC has displayed consistency in its objectives securing and executing high-profile deals in the midst of difficult situations,” judges said in their comments.
“The submitted materials were clear, concise and objective-driven, highlighting their important role in the sustainable finance sector: they deserve a winning place for this award segment.”
In terms of environmental, social and governance (ESG) equity financing, CITIC was the sole sponsor for the RMB32.2 ($4.67 billion) secondary listing of China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) on the red chip A-share market.
It also assisted petrochemicals to textile company Jiangsu Eastern Shenghong in the completion of a material asset restructuring worth RMB14.4 billion.
CITIC has maintained its leading position in domestic ESG debt financing, ranking first among Chinese securities firms in terms of domestic ESG debt, underwriting RMB48.75 billion in 2021 and RMB69.19 billion in 3Q22 YTD.
Rural revitalisation has been an important sector for CITIC and during the awards period it underwrote 26 rural revitalisation bonds and asset-backed securities for a total underwriting amount of RMB6.5 billion.
Its role as sole lead underwriter and bookrunner for the RMB2.5 billion China Chengtong Holdings Group publicly issued green scientific corporate bond phase 1 – an innovative combination of green corporate bonds and sci-tech innovation corporate bonds – is typical of the future direction of CITIC.
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