Why are Chinese companies snapping up overseas assets?

A Chinese couple carrying shopping bags as they walk outside a mall in Beijing Image copyright AFP/Getty

Anbang Insurance. ChemChina. Dalian Wanda. And now Alibaba.

Never heard of some of these names? Well, you better start getting familiar with them. The Chinese corporate bigwigs are coming to town. And they're making global headlines with their billion dollar deals.

The latest to jump on the bandwagon of the Chinese global acquisition trail? Chinese internet giant Alibaba.

It's just announced a $1bn investment in the South East Asia-focused e-commerce start-up Lazada Group. It's buying $500m worth of newly issued Lazada shares and spending another $500m to buy out stakes owned by current shareholders - the UK's Tesco amongst them.

It's a smart move - Alibaba has the cash to spend and is looking to diversify its business away from China. Expanding into South East Asia and a new market of potentially 600 million customers is one way to do this.

This is all part of an ongoing theme for Chinese businesses. In the first quarter of this year alone, Chinese firms have spent $98bn buying up overseas firms in a range of sectors - from agriculture to property to entertainment.

That's a whopping 237% increase from the year before, and is almost worth the entire value of deals signed last year. So what do Chinese companies want?

Here are three reasons why Chinese firms are shopping:

Going global

Chinese firms are keen to increase their global presence, and play alongside the "big boys" of business. So the next time you think of a major hotel firm or agri-business instead of Hilton or Monsanto, you'll think of Anbang Insurance or ChemChina.

After all, as the world's second-largest economy, China wants to have more of a role on the global business stage too.

Also, there's a tacit understanding between politically-connected Chinese business leaders and the government that making these sorts of high-profile corporate acquisitions is a way to show off China's economic might.

Image copyright AFP/Getty

Servicing the new Chinese consumer

As China's middle classes get richer they are heading overseas on holidays, and someone needs to cater to them. This could explain why you're seeing Anbang Insurance looking to buy high profile hotel chains in the US. (The Starwood deal failed, but Anbang bought a string of French boutique hotels a few years ago)

Chinese consumers are also spending more money on leisure activities like watching movies, and that could explain the rationale behind Dalian Wanda's decision to pick up a controlling stake in Hollywood film studio Legendary Entertainment for $3.5bn.

China's capital flight

There's another less talked about reason why all of this Chinese money is leaving the mainland, looking for deals overseas.

As China's economy slows down (the weakest growth in a quarter of a century) big corporate honchos are looking to hedge their bets by placing their funds outside of China.

The Chinese currency, the yuan, has been on a weakening trend recently, partly as a result of what many see as a deliberate move by China to allow its currency to weaken so as to boost exports.

That means if the yuan continues to weaken, it will become more expensive for Chinese firms to buy assets overseas - which may be one reason why you're seeing such a flurry of activity in such a short period of time.

So, what happens next? Expect more acquisitions by Chinese firms in the year ahead - but also expect more bumps ahead too.

It's a trend that's set to continue, but will almost certainly run into political trouble ahead of the US elections, as a bigger spotlight is shone on China's attempts to snap up overseas assets.