China

By Derek Scissors, American Enterprise Institute

Stock market volatility and a small currency devaluation have in the past few months caused the financial community to take note of Chinese economic weakness. A natural question is what effect this weakness will have on the rest of the world. The answer is very little, with most important reason being that China has not truly contributed to the global economy for at least four years.

The idea that Chinese weakness threatens the world economy melds a number of misconceptions. The first is that the weakness is a new phenomenon. It was actually the initial stock market climb and a rising renminbi that were somewhat surprising; the ensuring partial corrections were late in coming, if anything. Read more

By John Davies, Standard Chartered

China is the second-largest investor in US government bonds (or US Treasuries), trailing only the US Federal Reserve, but as the renminbi becomes more international, Chinese demand could drop, with significant implications for US yields.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is scheduled to decide later this year whether to include the RMB in its Special Drawing Rights (SDR) currency basket. In our view, China’s currency now meets the technical requirements for SDR inclusion, and we see a better than even chance that the IMF will add the renminbi.

Beijing appears to have taken up the challenge of the SDR review this year by accelerating the liberalisation of China’s capital account. However, this liberalisation cannot be achieved with a fixed RMB, so China, as this month’s move by its central bank has demonstrated, is likely to be heading towards a floating currency regime. Read more

Red is a lucky colour in China, which is why share price displays go red when prices are rising. A green display means prices are falling, the opposite to stock markets elsewhere. There is a similar discontinuity between the short-term impact of China’s recent 30 per cent stock market collapse and the concern of some western analysts that the government may see this as a reason for reversing President Xi’s New Normal programme of economic reform.

We do not expect this to happen. Rather, we see the aftermath of the collapse as a further playing out of the on-going factional struggle between the Princelings represented by President Xi and the Populists represented by Premier Li. If anything, it will strengthen Xi’s hand over the medium term, as the stimulus policy of the Populists is further discredited. Read more

By David Daokui Li, Tsinghua University

For most economies in the world, a 30 per cent drop in the stock index within a span of three weeks would certainly be considered a crisis. Certainly, the Chinese stock free fall (32 per cent at its peak) is a significant concern in China.

In fact, I was told the occupants of China’s Zongnanhai (the equivalent of the U.S. White House) endured the ensuing weekend with no rest, relentlessly laboring over rescue measures. In the final analysis, however, this was not a real “crisis” but a scary and revealing fire drill. Most likely, the stock market will be stabilized before long. Read more

Major structural change is under way in China’s passenger car market. New car sales grew just 1.2 per cent in May, as the country develops a used car market for the first time in its history. Buyers in the world’s largest auto market now have much more choice when it comes to buying a car, and are no longer forced to buy a new car.

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By Spencer Lake, HSBC

Chinese companies have been stepping up their global investment spree in the past 12 months. Mergers and acquisitions by private Chinese investors are becoming the key drivers of the country’s outbound direct investment.

In what has been called the ‘Third Wave’ of China outbound direct investment (ODI), the focus of investment has been on companies in the developed economies in high-tech and services. Previous ‘waves’ have focused on supporting developing economies and investing in commodities and extraction industries. Read more

A month ago, in the largest military parade held on Red Square since the days of Stalin, one foreign guest drew as much attention as the fearsome hardware on display. While leading the celebrations of the 70th anniversary of victory in what Russians call “the Great Patriotic War”, Vladimir Putin had by his side the congenial Chinese president, Xi Jinping.

President Putin hoped Xi’s presence would symbolise a new, multipolar world order, with Moscow and Beijing playing leading roles. Ultimately, Russian strategic thinking continues to assume, as it has since the days of the Tsars, that military and geopolitical power precede and largely determine a nation’s wealth and prestige. Read more

By Wesley Wu-Yi Koo and Lizhi Liu

Behind China’s impressive economic rise is the biggest human migration in history. By 2013, some 269m rural residents had become migrant workers in cities, offering cheap labour and sustaining urban growth. However, unable to register and settle their family members in the cities, these migrant workers are forced to leave behind children, spouses, and old people in the villages. This has taken a tremendous toll on the rural society.

Today, there are 61m “left-behind children” and 40m “left-behind elderly” in Chinese villages. Some 79 per cent of the left-behind children are under the care of grandparents, who are often uneducated and lack parenting resources and energy. As a result, the academic scores of 88 per cent of these children fall below what would be the passing line in cities. Read more

Noticeable progress has been made recently in Chinese companies in the areas of capital structure, management and employee incentivisation.

It is has long been said – with some justification – that aligning interests between stakeholders in China was almost impossible. Consequently the majority holder, historically the government in most instances, would dictate expansion plans based on broader economic objectives rather than narrower shareholder return motivations. Read more

China is in the early stages of a domestic M&A boom unlike any other elsewhere in the world. Deal pricing, timing, terms, financing and structure are all markedly different than in other major economies, with likely consequences, good and bad, for global corporations and buyout firms eyeing M&A transactions in China.

For these two, as well as companies wishing to find a buyer in China, the game now is to learn the new rules of China M&A and then learn to use them to one’s advantage.

Chinese companies mainly pursue M&A for the same reasons others do – to improve margins, gain efficiencies and please investors. The main difference, and it’s a striking one, is that in most cases domestic Chinese corporate buyers, especially the publicly-quoted ones who are most active now trying to do deals, have no money to buy another business. Read more

Arguably the most revealing English translation of the French verb ‘étonner’ – at least in the context of Napoleon’s famous quip about China – is ‘to astonish’. “Ici repose un géant endormi, laissez le dormir, car quand il s’éveillera, il étonnera le monde” so the Corsican is said to have noted. “Here lies a sleeping giant, let him sleep, for when he wakes, he will astonish the world.”

Some 200 years later, that giant has awoken and Napoleon was right: China is now astonishing the world. In the past three decades, it has roused itself from a slumber to a state of almost unimaginable vibrancy. The roll-call of economic trophies it now claims is daunting: largest exporter, importer, foreign exchange reserve owner, commodity consumer, luxury goods market, most car sales, most internet users, even (in purchasing power parity terms) biggest economy. Read more

Over many years, China has gained acclaim as the world’s manufacturing powerhouse. But today, innovation is flourishing in the world’s most populous nation, which is rapidly becoming a trendsetter with the potential to disrupt business models globally.

On a recent research trip to China, we were struck by the huge enthusiasm for locally developed smartphones and the entrepreneurial spirit sweeping the country. Indeed, the number of patents filed by Chinese residents has surged in recent years, both locally and abroad, to exceed the world’s largest developed economies. Read more

The ever ingenious Chinese financial system has developed a new kind of shadow bank – insurance companies.

China’s $586bn stimulus package in 2009 caused a flurry of lending through the country’s financial arteries. Some of this money ended up leaking out of the banks into unofficial channels, including the country’s state banks and the giant provincially-owned pseudo banks called Trust Companies. By the end of 2014, these off-balance sheet loans accounted for 18 per cent of all financing, up from less than 2 per cent a decade earlier. Read more

As the Chinese economy posts its slowest growth in six years, major reforms to China’s state-owned enterprises are now in the final planning stages. The Xi Jinping administration has pledged to overhaul and consolidate the state-owned economy to tackle widespread inefficiency and corruption.

A wave of mega-mergers among state-owned firms has already been announced in railways, nuclear power and other industries. Consolidation may be easier politically than market reforms, but it’s not the right way forward. China’s crown jewel firms don’t need to be bigger; they need to be better. Read more

One year on since new trade mark laws took effect in China and there is little evidence to show it is becoming any easier for global brands to enforce their rights in the country. The new laws and practices were intended to make it easier to enforce trade mark rights and provide greater levels of transparency and accountability surrounding intellectual property (IP) infringement.

It’s easy to understand why an increasing number of western companies are looking to take advantage of the Chinese market as e-commerce sales have recently rocketed, outpacing the US. However, some companies are still finding it difficult to protect their brands in China. Read more

The first whispers of worry about a Chinese property bubble surfaced in late 2009. Since then, the local real estate market has quickened and slowed in line with government measures to stoke or cool the market, but has never crashed. Nonetheless, some market watchers insist that the Chinese property bubble will burst one day. Recent sector weakness has given them further ammunition, as has the near collapse of Kaisa, a mid-sized Shenzhen-based developer.

Until December 2014, Kaisa’s finances were perceived to be strong and sales were rising. Now its survival is at the mercy of lenders and rivals. Its woes started when the government halted some of its Shenzhen projects in December without giving a reason. The chairman abruptly resigned, while debts to banks and bondholders have gone unpaid and the firm is in the process of being acquired by its competitor. It has yet to reach a consensual solution with its creditors. Read more

Argentina recently announced a deal to buy nuclear reactors from China, one of which is expected to be of original design. The anticipated export of the indigenously developed Hualong One is a symbol of how far China has come in a relatively short space of time. It has been able to manipulate its expanding domestic market to make a meteoric rise in terms of technological development.

A relative latecomer to nuclear power, its first reactor was connected to the grid in 1991. Less than 25 years later, China is now aiming to become a major player in the supply of nuclear technology to the world. Read more

After China’s notable political success in registering more than 35 applicants for funding membership of the yet to be launched Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), some important issues remain to be addressed that will determine the long term success of the new institution.

Scope of intervention: China-centric or Asia-focused? It is no coincidence that the set-up of the bank comes at the same time Beijing is rolling out its “one road, one belt” action plan. The revival of the Silk Road is part of the charm initiative aiming at winning greater consideration from neighboring countries as much as fostering trade relationships. 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