Wal-Mart, for example, stormed Japan in the late 1990s, hoping to export its supply chain practices and “everyday low price” model to a distinctly different consumer shopping culture. The giant discounter struggled until recently.
Cross-border acquisitions in high-growth countries are particularly hazardous. Law firm Freshfields studied merger transactions valued at $750m or more since 2008 and found that 38 percent of the deals over $2bn encountered some kind of issue, the most common being regulatory probes (51 percent). About 22 percent of the deals encountered “disputes such as activist protests and quarrels with landowners and employees,” Freshfields says.
Still, companies go where the growth is, and many high-growth opportunities remain in emerging markets and developing economies, despite recent setbacks. The International Monetary Fund forecasts 5.1 percent growth in emerging markets in 2014, compared with 2 percent for advanced economies.
The problem is many companies move into new regions or countries without a firm grasp of the culture or the investment environment, or how the companies there operate; therefore, they get the risk-reward ratio wrong, says professor Andrew Karolyi, who runs the The Emerging Markets Institute at Cornell’s Samuel Curtis Johnson School of Management.