Chinese giant outbids U.S. rival for firm that handles Mexico money transfers

Jack Ma: President Trump must work with China
Jack Ma: President Trump must work with China

A Chinese financial services giant is back in front in the race to buy U.S. money transfer service MoneyGram.

The Chinese firm, Ant Financial, just upped its offer to $1.2 billion for MoneyGram (MGI), one of the most popular avenues for sending money from the U.S. to Mexico and other countries.

The original deal struck in January was for $880 million, but U.S. company Euronet Worldwide (EEFT) jumped in last month with an unsolicited $1 billion offer.

That forced Ant, an affiliate of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba (BABA), to raise its bid to stay in the game.

MoneyGram's board unanimously approved the new deal, the companies said in a joint statement Sunday. But the planned takeover has come under fire from some political figures in the U.S.

Related: U.S. firm outbids Chinese giant in effort to buy MoneyGram

In its competing bid, Euronet -- based in Leawood, Kansas -- had argued that a domestic takeover of MoneyGram would face fewer regulatory hurdles than a bid from a Chinese company.

Ant's investors include Alibaba's billionaire chairman, Jack Ma, as well as companies and funds backed by the Chinese government.

U.S. congressmen Robert Pittenger and Chris Smith openly criticized MoneyGram's initial deal with Ant earlier this year. They raised concerns about the Chinese government's "significant" stake in Ant, which they put at roughly 15%.

"Should this transaction be approved, the Chinese government would gain significant access to, and information on, financial markets and specific international consumer money flows," they said.

MoneyGram and Ant said Sunday that they have "made significant progress" toward getting the necessary regulatory approvals in the U.S. But it will still need clearance from the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, which is responsible for vetting foreign investments in the country and how they might affect national security.

Ant Financial executives have stressed that the deal would be good for the employees of MoneyGram and American consumers, promising to invest and hire in the U.S.

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Ma met with President Trump in January, before the inauguration and the announcement of Ant's first bid for MoneyGram.

MoneyGram shareholders will also need to give the green light to the new deal. The companies said they expect it to go through by the end of the year.

MoneyGram's stock is up almost 40% since Ant's original bid, closing Thursday at $16.51. That's still below the Chinese firm's latest offer of $18 per share.

Ant recently completed a funding round that valued the company at $60 billion, more than U.S. rival PayPal (PYPL). The MoneyGram takeover is the Chinese company's first major move to expand its presence overseas.

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