Opinion

George Chen

Inflation-hit Chinese go abroad to shop

George Chen
Jul 11, 2011 06:32 UTC

By George Chen
The opinions expressed are the author’s own.

It’s been a month since my last column on Reuters.com as I have been on the road for a while.

When I travel in New York and London, my identity is more like that of a consumer with a dash of journalistic observation. People usually say Hong Kong is a shopping paradise but in my view, Hong Kong is no longer my favorite city for shopping. For U.S. fashion brands such as Cole Haan or Banana Republic, prices are much cheaper in New York. It’s the same for London if you’re a big fan of Burberry or Paul Smith.

The American people I know complain far less about the financial crisis than two or three years ago. Instead, some of them say they actually enjoy some of the benefits. Rents are cheaper. Food is cheaper. Transport companies are unable to raise ticket prices.

Prices for some nice homes in the historic Embassy Row, Washington D.C., look attractive to me. How much can you buy if you have $1 million? You can probably buy a nice house in downtown Washington or a tiny flat in Asia’s financial centre Hong Kong. $1 million is no longer a dream for many Chinese people thanks to the yuan’s appreciation. Let’s face it — America is cheaper and the Chinese are getting richer.

But the Chinese have their own problems; they don’t feel that rich at home.

Is China Inc still credible?

George Chen
Jun 9, 2011 03:19 UTC

By George Chen
The opinions expressed are the author’s own.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao once said there’s something even more important and precious than gold — people’s confidence.

In recent weeks, I’m afraid global investors have been losing confidence in Chinese stocks from the New York to Shanghai markets. Sino-Forest Corp became the latest victim of a slump in overseas-listed Chinese companies. The company earlier this week accused short-seller and research firm Muddy Waters of defamation for alleging in a report that it had fraudulently exaggerated its Chinese forestry assets.

Unfortunately, this is just the beginning of the hit to confidence over Chinese stocks, especially small caps listed at home or abroad, for example in Hong Kong, Singapore, New York and even on the second-tier board of the London Stock Exchange.

Is there really a China story?

George Chen
May 26, 2011 05:09 UTC


By George Chen
The opinions expressed are the author’s own.

I remember a veteran trader once told me of the three scenarios under which one should sell stocks.

First, sell when you start to sense the government is beginning to tighten market liquidity, indicated for example by a sudden influx of IPOs or a tougher monetary policy. Second, sell when you see almost everyone, from monks to neighborhood grandmothers, is buying. Third, when you see big banks such as Goldman Sachs downgrade their economic forecasts, which basically means they know they misunderstand something and have to fix the misunderstanding, sell.

So, this week Goldman Sachs trimmed its economic growth forecasts for China to 9.4 percent this year, from 10 percent previously, citing a recent run of surprisingly weak data, high oil prices and supply constraints. Goldman’s report created a buzz in the market, pushing some investors to sell further amid already weak sentiment. More banks are expected to follow Goldman’s move to trim their China forecasts in coming days and weeks.

One country, two problems

George Chen
May 23, 2011 04:51 UTC

By George Chen
The opinions expressed are the author’s own.

There’s a new problem with the “one country, two systems” policy for Hong Kong and mainland China — the appreciation of the yuan can ease inflation in mainland China but not in Hong Kong.

In Hong Kong, the former British colony that returned to Beijing’s hands in 1997, things unfortunately work the other way round.

Peter Wong, HSBC’s Asia-Pacific top boss (and widely considered the most handsome banker in Hong Kong) said at a forum in Shanghai last week that because the Hong Kong dollar is pegged to the U.S. dollar, whose value is falling almost every day, food prices in Hong Kong are set to increase as Hong Kong needs to pay more to import food products from the mainland.

Could Strauss-Kahn’s successor be Chinese?

George Chen
May 20, 2011 02:06 UTC

By George Chen
The opinions expressed are the author’s own.

So, Dominique Strauss-Kahn has resigned with immediate effect. But to the International Monetary Fund it’s hardly the end, just a new beginning.

So who will be the new leader of the IMF? In Beijing, there’s growing ambition and confidence that a Chinese candidate should be appointed, or at least considered.

Zhu Min, a native of Shanghai who experienced the horrible Cultural Revolution and then managed to be admitted into the prestigious Fudan University after the political movement ended, is widely considered and promoted by domestic media as a strong Chinese candidate for the top IMF post.

China’s King Edward VIII

George Chen
May 18, 2011 03:58 UTC

By George Chen
The opinions expressed are the author’s own.

Did you miss the biggest breaking news item in China’s investment circle yesterday? I am not talking about another big IPO or M&A deal. I’m talking about Wang Gongquan, an influential veteran private equity investor in Beijing.

Wang was a co-founder and senior partner of CDH Venture Partners, a leading investment firm headquartered in Beijing. Considered one of the early birds in China’s venture capital world, Wang was a general partner with U.S. technology investment heavyweight IDG before he established CDH Venture Partners in 2005.

In March, Qihoo 360 Technology, one of Wang’s investment portfolio companies, went public on the New York stock exchange. As one of the early investors in Qihoo, the maker of the second most popular web browser in China, behind Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, the successful IPO made Wang more famous in China. And of course, the billionaire is getting even richer.

Japan, Australia, if not China?

George Chen
May 17, 2011 02:59 UTC

By George Chen
The opinions expressed are the author’s own.

I am hearing more complaints these days from trader friends about how boring the market is these days. Why boring?

Trading volume is low and there are apparently more risks than opportunities as investors seek clear signals about the central bank’s monetary policy direction and about what global funds think of China for the second half of the year.

With investors uncertain about the outlook for the Shanghai and Hong Kong stock markets, some are beginning to rethink their positions on Japan. Concerns about radiation are easing and I hear more people talking about the big potential for Japan’s market and economy to rebound amid massive reconstruction there. An old and new question then arises: can we bet on the Nikkei, again?

The dilemma between pay rise and inflation

George Chen
May 4, 2011 09:20 UTC

By George Chen
The opinions expressed are the author’s own.

First, we were worried about inflation in mainland China. Now it seems Hong Kong’s inflation situation in coming months looks no better. I blame the worsening problem partly on the city’s first-ever minimum wage law, effective May 1.

As I study international political economy at the University of Hong Kong, my professor and classmates do know I am a free market fan and don’t believe a minimum wage will help Hong Kong’s economy and boost employment, as some Hong Kong lawmakers assert.

The sad truth is I went to buy my favorite Pearl Milk Tea on May 1 and found it was 2 Hong Kong dollars (about US$0.26) more expensive. Then I went to check out McDonald’s — prices for some of its burgers and drinks have also risen about 2-3 percent. And last night, local media said taxi and tram fares were going to rise in the former British colony too!

What happened to B shares?

George Chen
Apr 28, 2011 07:24 UTC

By George Chen
The opinions expressed are the author’s own.

Few people outside of China really know what B shares are.

“B shares? Does that mean they are not as good as A shares?” That’s a typical question I hear from foreign friends when they first come to the mainland market and by chance learn some buzz about the B-share index.

B shares probably only attract public attention when trading gets excitable, as is the case now. The U.S. dollar-denominated B shares index sank more than 7 percent at one point on Thursday after ending down more than  5 percent on Wednesday.

So, what happened?

First, the B shares index tumbled on Wednesday without any clue or warning, surprising most people in the market. On Thursday, it retreated further, even after Beijing attempted to clarify a rumour about capital gains tax that was believed to have triggered the market panic. China was  not likely to start taxing investors on capital gains any time soon, a tax official told Reuters on Thursday.

Is Beijing brewing something?

George Chen
Apr 27, 2011 04:57 UTC

By George Chen
The opinions expressed are the author’s own.

There are growing signs that something is brewing in relation to China’s foreign exchange rate regime.

When Hong Kong traders returned from the Easter break, many were surprised to be told by their mainland colleagues about growing market speculation that Beijing might be planning a one-off deal to lift the value of the yuan — some say by as much as 10 percent.

Others are more cautious. They say a one-off revaluation sounds unlikely although Beijing may relax foreign exchange controls by setting new “game rules” around the upcoming Labour Day holiday in the first week of May. The Financial Times yesterday ran a nice scoop about sovereign wealth fund China Investment Corp being set to win new funds, likely $100-200 billion, as Beijing seeks to diversify its massive foreign exchange reserves, now exceeding $3 trillion.

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