Chinese Internet giant Baidu has announced that it is offering $1.5 billion in notes as it looks to close down debts and provide itself with the financial cloud to pursue future strategic opportunities, which could include mergers, acquisitions and investments.
Subtracting associated costs, such as underwriting discounts and commissions, Baidu expects the move to bring it $1,491.6 million (to be precise) which will be used to pay off existing debts and give the company the freedom to manoeuvre , Kaiser Kuo, the company’s director of international communications, told TNW.
“Besides the obvious advantage of being able to raise US dollars inexpensively at this time to retire some of our existing debt, our bond offer is really about having a ready war chest flexibility for a range of strategic uses,” Kuo further explained, before admitting that the funds “could include” acquisitions and mergers, both in China and abroad.
Speaking on an analyst call in August, Baidu CEO Robin Li voiced the company’s intention to pursue deals that will bring it added value, particularly on mobile. However, despite plenty of recent rumors — which have included investments in browser maker UC and ROM-maker Zhuo Dashi — Kuo says it is not currently pursuing anything.
“While we have no specific M&A deals pending at present, Baidu always wants to be ready to make prudent investments and acquisitions when good opportunities present themselves,” he says.
Kuo also points out that, while Baidu has raised US dollars (it is listed on the Nasdaq), that doesn’t mean that the portion of fresh funds earmarked for M&As will be used to pursue international opportunities, since some Chinese acquisitions actually require the American currency.
While the potential of Baidu pursing international opportunities is an exciting one, the presumption is somewhat at odds with the company’s softly-softly approach to global expansion. To date, Baidu has tested international waters with a series of low-key product rollouts in a handful of markets, rather than flashing the cash in a major way.
For example, it recently dipped its toes into Brazil, with the quiet local launch of its Hao123 Web directory, which is also active in Thailand, Vietnam and Egypt. It also introduced a local version of Baidu Tie Ba, its “PostBar” forum service, in Vietnam in July, as it continues to gauge the potential of the Web in Asia and beyond.
There are firm plans to expand its search engine — which owns more than 90 percent of the Chinese market — and other services overseas however, and, to that point, Baidu opened a linguistics research center in Singapore this year. The center will be used to to develop technologies and information that will regionalize its Web products for Southeast Asian languages, Portuguese and Arabic.
Outside of overseas expansion, Baidu is investing heavily in mobile and cloud, which includes a $1.6 billion project to build a new cloud computing center. That push goes hand-in-hand with its Baidu Cloud system, which sits atop of Android and is designed to developer smartphone owners in China localized, Baidu-powered services via the cloud.
Baidu’s public offering consists of $750 million worth of 2.250% notes, due in 2017, and $750 million of 3.500% notes, due in 2022. The notes are expected to be listed on the Singapore Exchange, Baidu says.
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