September 17, 2008
If Morgan Stanley Sells Itself to Citic, Will CFIUS Approve?
Posted by David Zaring

Citic being a Chinese bank, Morgan Stanley being a symbol of American capitalism.  Nonetheless, they are talking, and in this world of insta-sales, it is worth noting that the government has a leisurely 90 days to undo any sale to a foreign company (we're looking at you, Barclehs).

The thing about CFIUS, the secretive government committee charged with deciding whether to undo deals initiated by foreign investors, is that it rarely gets in the way of transactions.  With Treasury chairing that committee, and eager to get non-taxpayer-funded capital into the markets, I can't imagine an executive branch scotching of the deal, if a deal is struck.

Congress, on the other hand, now that's a different story.  Congress undid the Chinese takeover of Unocal, it undid the Dubai Ports World takeover of P&O ... Congress is something that foreign acquirers like CITIC fear, and fear reasonably.  In my view, CFIUS, in fact, largely serves as a finely tuned congressional notification service.

Would Congress pressure CFIUS to undo a Citic deal?  That's what the healthy foreign banks circling Wall Street have to figure out, and what they may need to hire DC lawyers to ascertain.

UPDATE: The Financial Times is reporting that is it CIC, not Citic, that is in these talks.  CIC is a sovereign wealth fund run by the Communist party (I'm exaggerating for slight effect), and the kind of vulture acquirer that could make Congress go wild.  You can bet CIC has lawyers on retainer to deal with CFIUS already, just in case. 

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