US digital imaging chipmaker OmniVision Technologies Inc said it received a buyout proposal from a group of Chinese investors, including a state-owned firm.
The proposed buyout values OmniVision at about US$1.7 billion (S$2.12 billion), but would almost certainly face scrutiny from the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) if the Santa Clara, California-based company accepts it.
Attempts by Chinese firms to buy US technology companies in the past have faced immense scrutiny, especially due to cybersecurity concerns and fears of transfer of technology that could be used for military purposes. "I think any Chinese investment in the US is going to be looked at carefully," said Tim Keeler, a partner at law firm Mayer Brown LLP.
OmniVision makes chips for smartphone and tablet cameras, including Apple Inc's iPhones.
CFIUS, an interagency group chaired by the Treasury Secretary, reviews deals that could bring US businesses under foreign ownership and is required by law to assess any transaction involving a state-owned firm.
The Chinese investment group, led by Hua Capital Management Ltd, includes state-owned Shanghai Pudong Science and Technology Investment Co Ltd.
Jim Lewis, a technology expert at Washington-based think-tank Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the deal was likely to face greater scrutiny because China has been looking to buy chip-making technology.
Chinese state-owned investment firms have offered to buy several US-listed chipmakers in the past year, such as Montage Technology Group, Spreadtrum Communications Inc and RDA Microelectronics Inc. "You have these political hurdles, of people being concerned about state-owned enterprises, and people being concerned about chip-making technology going to China," Lewis said. "I can't think of what else they could add to make it more difficult (to get CFIUS approval)," he added.
However, equity analysts at Robert W. Baird and Oppenheimer & Co said they did not believe OmniVision had technology that might raise security concerns.
OmniVision's competitors include Sony Corp, Samsung Electronics Co and Himax Technologies Inc. The company has a design centre and a testing facility in China and generates nearly 80 per cent of its revenue from the country.
The company is gaining market share against its key competitors in the Chinese smartphone market, helped by strong demand for image sensors and the lower cost of its products, Baird analysts wrote in a note last month.
The proposed offer price of US$29 per share represents a premium of 17.9 per cent to the stock's Wednesday close.
OmniVision shares touched a near three-year high of US$28.34 on the Nasdaq.
The company said it was evaluating the proposal and that JP Morgan Securities was its financial adviser.
Up to Wednesday's close, the stock had risen more than 40 per cent this year.