Asia

Since Narendra Modi’s government has been in power, significant changes have been made to boost India’s economy and society. One major change was implementing the Indian Insurance Act, first proposed by the previous government.

The Act enables global reinsurers to enter as 100 per cent owned branches and increases overall foreign direct investment (FDI) in the insurance industry from the current limit of 26 per cent to 49 per cent. While there are many aspects of insurance, the most significant opportunity not only for insurers but also for Indian society, is the health insurance sector. Read more

By Rajeev Malik of CLSA

The general drift in the financial trenches is that Governor Raghuram Rajan of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) will stay on hold at the bank’s April 7 policy meeting. After all, he just cut rates – in a second consecutive out-of-meeting action – in early March. What’s more, consumer price inflation moved up in February; this will constrain the RBI from easing. Finally, following the surprise rate cut in January, the RBI had stayed on hold at its February policy meeting; it will repeat this behaviour next month.

For these reasons, hardly anyone expects a rate cut next week. However, valid as these arguments are, they are overshadowed by factors that make a stronger case for another cut. Read more

By Andy Rothman, Matthews Asia

Will China’s real estate market crash? No, not in my opinion. China’s residential property market is significantly softer now. But I believe there is very little risk of a crash. House prices are stabilising in China, and are likely to rise again by the second half of this year on a year-over-year basis.

But keep in mind that because of the base effect, prices are likely to fall year-on-year at a steeper rate through much of the first half of this year, leading to a growing chorus of predictions of a housing crisis. Read more

By Joel Backaler, Author of “China Goes West”

On March 22, China National Chemical Corporation (CNCC) reached an agreement with the controlling shareholders of Italian tire-maker Pirelli to move forward with a €7bn takeover. If successful, the deal will be one of the largest overseas acquisitions of a European company by a Chinese firm to date.

While CNCC may not have the global recognition of Chinese firms such as Alibaba, Huawei and Lenovo, CNCC and its chairman, Ren Jianxin, are experienced international acquirers. Ren has acquired either directly, or via government driven consolidation, 107 domestic firms and four international businesses in France, Australia and Israel. Read more

By Noor Menai, CTBC Bank USA

In a thinly veiled admonishment, the White House recently accused the UK – our closest ally – of “a policy of constant accommodation” towards China. The parallel drawn to the historical appeasement of Germany by an apprehensive Europe was lost on no one, nor indeed the overwrought nature of the underlying concern.

The proximate cause of this spleen-venting was the surprise breaking of ranks by the UK to join as a founding shareholder the nascent China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB.) This initial $50bn fund has as its’ agenda the financing of overdue infrastructure in Asia. Read more

By Gavin Bowring, Asean Confidential

With the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) gaining support from a growing number of global economic actors, one big question remains. Where will the bank itself be headquartered?

Beijing might seem the obvious choice. But given the political sensitivities surrounding the bank’s formation, it may seek to alleviate fears of Sinocentrism and opt for a neutral, regional destination. A similar calculation resulted in the decision by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) – in which Japan is the largest shareholder – to pitch its regional headquarters in Manila. Read more

By David Mann of Standard Chartered

Much of the negativity about world growth prospects at the moment seems to stem from the absence of a credit boom in any major market and worries over the consequences of higher US interest rates for the first time since 2006.

The lack of a credit boom means that growth is more subdued than it was in the run-up to the global financial crisis.

In particular, there are fears about China’s growth prospects, given the recent bad news concerning weak credit demand, high real interest rates and tight liquidity. However, we see three reasons for at least some optimism. Read more

How many places can you be in at one time? South Korean shareholders say the obvious answer to this question is being exploited unfairly by publicly traded companies to restrict their ability to raise their concerns and gather information at annual general meetings.

The result is known in Korea as Super AGM Day. The most recent was on March 13, when 58 companies, comprising 8 per cent of companies listed in the benchmark Kospi index and about 40 per cent of its market capitalisation, held their AGMs. Two more are coming up: on Friday, March 20, 260 companies, more than a third of those in the Kospi index, hold their AGMs; next week, on March 27, it is the turn of another 252 Kospi-listed companies to hold their AGMs, all on the same day. Read more

By Dominic Jephcott, Vendigital

The Chinese Government’s decision to embark on a fresh round of industry consolidation as part of a move to strengthen state-owned enterprises (SoEs) and increase their global competitiveness has been a long time coming. It is an understandable response to the slowdown in economic growth, over-capacity in many sectors and poor returns on huge capital investments over the last ten years.

The Made in China 2025 initiative, which was outlined last week at the National People’s Congress, is a 10-year plan for transforming the country’s disparate manufacturing sector in order to create a smaller number of large-scale businesses capable of competing internationally in the higher added-value and strategic industries. Calls to address the endemic inefficiencies of China’s SoEs and increase their global competitiveness are nothing new, of course, but this time it seems there is a clear commitment to make sure it happens. Read more

The International Monetary Fund will hold discussions in May and make a decision in November on whether to add the Chinese renminbi to the four currencies it uses to value its Special Drawing Right (SDR), the international reserve asset created by the Fund.

China is keen for this to happen, as the deputy governor of its central bank, the People’s Bank of China (PBoC), reiterated at a press conference in Beijing on Thursday. There is a snag: the renminbi is not and may never be a convertible currency, which is a standard pre-requisite of a reserve currency. But as David Lubin of Citi Research argues in a note also published on Thursday, that consideration is likely to be put aside. Read more

By Diana Gapak, Daniyar Kosnazarov and Gavin Bowring

Often likened to being “between a rock and a hard place”, Central Asia’s relatively isolated position has required it to maintain consistent and balanced good relations with two giant neighbours, China and Russia.

Nevertheless, its high degree of integration with Russia has jolted the region’s local economies, the result of their twin exposure to the protracted Ukrainian crisis and the slump in commodity prices, manifested through tanking local currencies and reduced inflows of remittances from workers abroad.

Anxiety has further gripped post-Soviet states in recent months, with the recent 35 per cent slump in the Azerbaijan manat and a 34 per cent devaluation in Turkmenistan, often considered the economy with the least direct exposure to Russia. Concerns are spreading in Kazakhstan of an additional devaluation of the tenge (following last year’s 20 per cent decline) amid calls for early presidential elections. Read more

China is no stranger to internet sensations, but a documentary highlighting the scale of the country’s chronic air pollution seems to have shaken the trees all the way to Beijing’s highest branches.

Under the Dome, the 104-minute film made by journalist Chai Jing, has already been seen by 160m people on Tencent’s video page, and garnered praise from government ministers and state media. Investors are also taking note. Read more

The strategic rivalry between Japan and China in Asia is finding expression not only in territorial disputes in the east China sea but also in plans for railways to criss-cross Thailand and eventually link the country to a wider Indochina rail network.

Both lines will serve primarily as freight transport systems. The planned Chinese-backed railway will run north-south from Thailand’s main deep seaport in Rayong to the Laos border at Nong Khai, with a separate spur that connects to Bangkok. Read more

The second cut in China’s interest rates in three months reveals key elements in Beijing’s thinking as it tries to reconcile an economic policy agenda beset with conflicting priorities, analysts said on Monday.

The task before China requires some delicate manoeuvres. It aims to wean the country off an extraordinary debt binge (see Martin Wolf ) while keeping GDP growth fairly robust. It hopes to combat disinflationary pressures while preventing the renminbi from sliding too sharply against the US dollar. It wants to curb a dangerous slump in industrial profits without resorting to another round of investment pump-priming. It needs to keep domestic liquidity levels buoyant in spite of a surge in capital flight.  Read more

Gulzar Ahmed is one small link in the human bridge between Dharavi, one of India’s largest shanty towns, and the fashion boutiques of Milan.

The master tailor in a small workshop run by Italian designer Viola Parrocchetti, Ahmed is one of thousands of skilled craftsmen that live and work in Dharavi, providing tailoring and embroidering services to India’s thriving fashion industry, much of it destined for export. Read more

For centuries, street vendors across southeast Asia have hacked open fresh coconuts, selling their refreshing water to thirsty passers-by to drink through a straw. For just as long, teenage girls have doused their hair in the coconut’s fortifying oil.

More recently, western consumers have discovered the benefits of coconut products thanks to diet fads and celebrity endorsements — but will those benefits extend to producing countries? Read more

Narendra Modi, India’s pro-business prime minister, swept to power last year offering a new efficient form of government and a crackdown on the high-level corruption that has weighed on growth for decades.

But in a new report, analysts at Ambit Capital, a Mumbai-based brokerage, suggest that this otherwise positive shift may be negative for India’s rural economy – if only in the short-term. Read more

By Sanjeev Prasad, Kotak Institutional Equities

The Indian government’s annual budget – to be announced on Saturday – will be intensely scrutinised for clues about the evolving policy priorities of Narendra Modi, the prime minister.

But while many will be focused on expenditure and revenue plans, Indian business will be looking in a somewhat different direction. It is hoping that the budget will further reforms to bring about a lower ‘visible’ role of the government in the economy, under which it relinquishes or reduces its multiple roles of financier, manager, owner, policy-maker and regulator.

The budget is an ideal opportunity for the government to re-evaluate its role in the economy at a time when the private sector, states and local governments are playing an increasingly larger role in economic and social development. A greater ‘invisible’ role of the government simply as a facilitator of private sector investment is required. Read more

By Bibhas Saha, Durham University Business School

When Narendra Modi, the India prime minister, assumed office in May 2014 everybody knew big changes were coming, but very few could foresee that labour reform would be one of them. Modi knows that if India wants to export more it has to take China on at its own game by creating a more flexible labour market and upgrading skills in a vast pool of potential labour supply.

India is far behind on both, with low literacy and complex labour laws. The laws are archaic (one dating back to 1926) and among the most rigid in the world. Of particular concern is the job security law, which was first introduced in 1976 and then further stiffened in 1982. At that time the objective was to improve job security in private sector firms so they were in line with the public sector. Read more