Bloomberg News

HONG KONG - J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. beat Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co. and Merrill Lynch & Co. to be top adviser on announced mergers and acquisitions in Asia outside Japan in the first quarter, according to Bloomberg News data.

All three advised parties on Singapore Telecommunications Ltd.'s purchase of Cable & Wireless Optus Ltd. of Australia, which at $9.7 billion was the biggest takeover in a period that had 966 transactions worth $55 billion. That is 37% less than the value of mergers and acquisitions in the first three months of 2000.

The value of first-quarter takeovers announced globally fell 61%, to $427 billion, as falling stock markets and slowing economies deterred buyers and sellers.

"Asia's down a lot less than the U.S. and Europe in the first quarter," said Richard Kelly, head of Asia-Pacific mergers and acquisitions at Morgan Chase. "The pipeline for the rest of the year is strong."

The 858 Asian combinations worth $87.5 billion in the first quarter of 2000 were dominated by the $28 billion takeover of Cable & Wireless HKT Ltd. by Pacific Century CyberWorks Ltd.

The number of mergers and acquisitions in Asia has increased in the three years since the region's 1997 financial crisis, as governments prodded companies to combine into stronger entities or sell off operations to repay debts, and as smaller shareholders sought to benefit from high stock prices. "It's better to sell it now than wait until the valuation comes down," said Arthur Lau, associate director responsible for financial institutions in Asia at credit rating company Fitch.

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