Giant on the move
After the credit emission in China during the first half, international investors are concerned that bad debt will pile up after three years. Bankers in China are certainly a lot more optimistic.
More than 50 percent of the bankers surveyed by PricewaterhouseCoopers and China Banking Association expect the ratio of banks’ non-performing-loans to range between 1 percent and 5 percent of the total over the next three years. Indeed, 30 percent expect the ratio to be below 1 percent.
True, NPLs are currently at a record low of 1.8 percent . But given the recent lending frenzy, it is surprising that such a high number of bankers would expect it to drop further rather than inching up. Perhaps they are betting on another clean-up of bad debt so the ratio will get reset to zero?
There are also some seemingly self-contradictory answers that belie their concern of the property market. As much as 63 percent of respondents say they will continue to support mortgage and personal loans but most of them (79 percent), want to be prudent on lending related to property developers, a group that has been kicked around by some heavy handed policies.
Urumqi is a city cut off from the outside world. There has been no Internet access for two months. Phone links in or out of the region are sporadic. Text messaging is limited.
And so people gather in the streets to listen to rumors.
Walking through the streets of Urumqi these past days, the main sounds I heard were of human voices. The snatches of conversation carried rumors of syringe attacks, and outbreaks of rebellious outrage. The words floated from open shop doors, from knots of people gathered at a bus station, and from people talking on cell phones as they passed me on the sidewalk.
It was unusually quiet for China, and so the voices carried. Construction sites halted work on Friday and Saturday and road blocks kept cars out of the city so that demonstrators wouldn’t flood in, after thousands gathered in People’s Square on Sept 2 to demand the resignation of the region’s most powerful official. He came out on a balcony to address the crowds through a bullhorn; they threw bottles and stones at him.
On Friday evening, at an intersection where police and paramilitary had disbursed thousands of ethnic Han Chinese trying to force their way to People’s Square, a knot of people gathered to listen to a grim woman, her voice clear and defiant.
“China is democratic and scientific now, but they have taken away our democracy by keeping us down.”
Urumqi was swept by talk of syringe attacks, which the government blamed on separatists, and gripped by a resurgence of racial hatred, two months after 197 people were killed during a riot by Uighurs. Terrified of the mysterious syringe stalkers, Han Chinese took to the streets in disgust and fear to demand more security from the government. Troops were stationed at the entrance to Uighur neighborhoods, to prevent bloodshed by the angry crowds.
The rumors varied with each group clustered on the sidewalks — some versions claimed Uighur women, in their distinctive headscarves, were sticking people with syringes. Others said men were targeting Han women and children. Still another blamed “Uighurs wearing suits.”
On Saturday morning, about 20 men huddled around a Chinese man who was busy conveying the story of how a boy had been pricked with a needle, and how troops had prevented the crowd from beating up a nearby Uighur. Then an older man began a litany of complaints about mistreatment by the police and paramilitary. The others nodded in agreement.
The syringe scare was started by a police department text message last Monday, warning residents against attackers with syringes. Based on the indictments so far, some drug addicts had robbed a cab driver by threatening him with a syringe; another tried to fend off police who were trying to rescue them. And then there was a teenager who stuck a needle in a fruit seller’s buttock.
The government warned of a coordinated separatist attack. The effect of the text message, especially in buses crowded with Urumqi residents who are fearful and suspicious of each other, was panic. Over 500 people have gone to the police saying they were attacked; only 106 of them had a clear mark, bump or rash on their skin, official figures show.
But it’s not all hysteria. Those 106 people were pricked with something. Xinhua, the state news agency, said some were mosquito bites. But others were indeed injured, albeit slightly. Doctors, who reassured reporters that it was unlikely the attacks could spread AIDS, said that at least some of the verifiable injuries could be pin or sewing needle pricks.
So who is sticking needles into people? Angry copycats who got an idea from that text message? People who want to enjoy the fuss? People who want to arouse tension and strife in Urumqi, the divided city?
If the government wanted to reduce tensions, it has a tough job now. Its claims of a separatist plot have inflamed tensions, but it is so invested in them it would be difficult to back off now. If it said nothing was happening, people would believe a cover-up was going on.
As I wrote this, the government ordered work units in central Urumqi to close at 6 pm, but gave no reason for the order. Instantly, more wild rumours flashed through the city.
Many Asia bankers and dealmakers are based in Hong Kong but nowadays many of them only stay in the territory for weekends. So where are they during the rest of the week? China, of course.
With deal flow suddenly picking up, it’s getting difficult to fix lunch or dinner appointments with bankers in Hong Kong during the work week, because they spend more time in Beijing, Shanghai and other mainland cities to have food or drinks with the potential China clients.
Last week, one Hong Kong-based private equity dealmaker canceled an appointment in the
former British colony at the last minute, saying he had to remain in Beijing to wait for a Chinese entrepreneur to sign a deal.
In an apology email, he said: “To be honest, Hong Kong to me is purely like a weekend destination these days.”
Another friend who works as a private equity investor once joked he and many others are merely “so-called Hong Kong-based” workers.
Before the Dalai Lama spoke on the sober subjects of religion and the environment in Taiwan during a speech this week, he opened with a quip about his English.
“First thing, no grammar, no proper grammar,” the 73-year-old said with a low-pitched staccato laugh while addressing a full auditorium of residents in the southern city of Kaohsiung. “There is a danger to get misunderstandings, so I always tell you, be careful Dalai Lama’s broken English.”
from Summit Notebook:
Beijing's affordable housing projects -- which account for 10 percent of the government's huge $585 billion stimulus package, a key to propping up the crucial property market -- is making fans
of low income wage earners, but has some developers seething.
Some developers see the government's role in the market as interference in market forces that are distorting prices.
from Summit Notebook:
As China Inc shops for assets almost everywhere across the planet, some people know what they want. Others are just hurrying to grab some company that's become undervalued during the global financial crisis.
At the Reuters China Investment Summit in Hong Kong, we asked one of JPMorgan's top deal advisers -- Brian Gu, head of M&A for Greater China -- if he had any suggestions for cash-rich Chinese. His answer was simple: First, be confident.
"For any M&A, they need the confidence that they aren't getting into anything that's messy. They have to demonstrate strong integration and a capability to absorb those assets," said Gu, a biochemist-turned investment banker.
"A lot of companies want to make minority investments because they just don't have the confidence to handle a full-blown integration." Instead, he said, companies are taking a phased approach -- buy 20 percent, send some representatives to get to know the managers and then make the decision later on whether to buy the whole company.
In fact, not many Chinese overseas acquirers have shown much confidence, including Lenovo -- whose chairman once said that it may take years to see whether the purchase of IBM's PC business would succeed -- and China Minsheng Banking Corp. Minsheng bought a minority stake in UCBH and the shares of the American company sank during the financial crisis.
Gu was unenthusiastic about Chinese companies buying into distressed assets. "With distressed transactions, it's easier to see them buying into simpler assets, such as natural resources or large capital equipment assets", he said, adding he believes China Inc knows how to value and operate natural resources better than other, more complicated businesses.
"(Chinese companies) don't have to be involved in turning around a distressed company. That's why you see a lot of action in those sectors rather than making bold moves where you buy big operations that involve hundreds of thousands of employees."
Just months ago, a little-known Chinese company called Tengzhong surprised markets with its plan to buy GM's troubled Hummer unit. The deal is now still subject to final agreement between Tengzhong and GM as well as Beijing's approval.
Now, the question for Tengzhong -- is it confident it can succeed with Hummer where GM has already failed?
Photo Caption: Brian Gu, JP Morgan's head of M&A for Greater China, speaking at the Reuters China Investment Summit.
from Summit Notebook:
Foreign companies in China, which has the world's biggest online community, have faced allegations of bowing to censorship rules in their hunt for market access. To be careful, they usually avoid questions on the subject altogether or deflect them with humour.
"I don't think I am the expert to comment on this," Shirley Yu-Tsui, a vice president of strategy for IBM greater China, said at the Reuters China Investment Summit.
from LEGACY Reuters Summits:
China's banking system could take a cue from children and
neighborhood social groups to strengthen lending rules and
ensure that credit flows to where it is needed most.
The country's banks lent a whopping record 7.37 trillion yuan
($1.08 trillion) in the first half of the year, but regulators
worry that a significant portion is not flowing into the real
economy and smaller firms where funds are needed the most.
The U.S. rejection of the $18.5 billion bid by China’s top offshore oil company, CNOOC Ltd, for Unocal in 2005 was not a move worthy of a world power such as the United States, asserts a Chinese academic with the government’s top economic planning agency.
“If you are weak, then I can understand,” said Chen Dongqi, deputy director of the Academy of
Macro-Economic Research under the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC).