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Nov 5, 2012
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Chinese reforms could trigger domino effect

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By John Foley

The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

What does China want? Sustained growth, and happier citizens. How will it get there? Through economic reform. It sounds simple enough.

Nov 1, 2012
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China “hard landing” talk abates, but not for long

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By John Foley

The author is a Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

China’s hard landing is the catastrophe that wasn’t. A return to expansion in the closely watched official survey of purchasing managers released on Nov. 1 leaves the Chinese economy on track for GDP growth of around 7.5 percent for 2012. The Breakingviews Tea Leaf Index, which combines a more eclectic group of indicators, also showed that conditions are improving. But talk of a punishing downturn will recur, because China’s economy remains unbalanced.

 Breakingviews China Tea Leaf Index

The big threat to China’s growth remains real estate, which contributes roughly 15 percent of GDP, and in reality much more, through its effects on consumer goods sales, wages and confidence.

Oct 30, 2012
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Three reasons China’s banks deserve their derating

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By John Foley

The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

China’s banks enjoy valuations most Western rivals would kill for. But compared with the earnings they are throwing off, their share prices look miserly. The country’s seven biggest banks trade at an average of 1.2 times their most recently reported book value, according to Reuters Eikon, despite aggregate returns on equity above 20 percent. Five years ago, lesser returns allowed them to command multiples above 4.5 times book. Though the derating is harsh, it’s justified.

Oct 26, 2012
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China insider exposé is explosive and predictable

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By John Foley

The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

Fix one problem, and along comes another. On the day China expelled disgraced politician Bo Xilai from its parliament, a New York Times investigation alleged that Premier Wen Jiabao’s family controls financial assets worth $2.7 billion. The suggestion is explosive, particularly of a leader who has spoken out about inequality. But it is also mundane, and won’t much change the calculus for investors in the People’s Republic.

Oct 12, 2012
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Softbank-Sprint tie-up gets bad signal from market

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The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

By John Foley

Softbank chief executive Masayoshi Son has received a strong signal from investors. They wiped $6.2 billion in value off the Japanese telecoms operator’s market value on Oct. 12 after it confirmed it was in talks with U.S. rival Sprint Nextel. That’s three times more than U.S. investors added to Sprint’s worth the previous day. No wonder: a takeover would be a financial stretch for Softbank, and could preclude other deals closer to home.

Oct 10, 2012
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China’s IMF boycott undermines quest for clout

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By John Foley

The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

If China wants a bigger say at the IMF, boycotting the fund’s meeting in Japan is the wrong way to get it. The head of the central bank, Zhou Xiaochuan, withdrew on Oct. 10, amid a territorial dispute between the two countries. Yet the IMF is supposed to be about finance, not border politics. If China doesn’t agree, maybe it isn’t ready for a bigger role.

Oct 8, 2012
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China’s telco suppliers can’t escape spying row

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By John Foley
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

Earning the trust of Americans is proving a Sisyphean task for Huawei. The Chinese telecom supplier has consistently fought reports of too-close ties to the People’s Liberation Army and undue influence from Beijing. Now a panel of U.S. congressmen has publicly labelled the employee-owned group and its rival ZTE a security threat. True or not, the accusation is a serious blow.

Sep 28, 2012
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What’s the best gauge of China’s growth? You pick.

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What’s really going on in China’s economy? It depends where you look. Numbers abound, but good explanations are scarce. Take the country’s Gross Domestic Product: it showed year-on-year growth of 7.6 percent in the second quarter of 2012, a whisker above the official goal. Yet vice premier Li Keqiang famously referred to GDP as “man-made” and therefore unreliable, according to a cable published by Wikileaks. Many academics and economists agree.

To get a different perspective, Breakingviews has picked ten alternative indicators. Some, like bank lending and residential property, measure finance and investment. Steel output, rail freight and truck sales offer a gauge of industrial activity. Others are more subjective, like the quality of Beijing’s air, the share-price performance of Kweichow Moutai, a brewer of high-end liquor, and sales of Audis, the car beloved of Chinese officials. An increase in the last three suggests growth, but maybe not the right kind.

Sep 19, 2012
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Consumer boycotts won’t decide Sino-Japan fight

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By John Foley

The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

Are consumers China’s secret weapon? Not when it comes to winning its ongoing spat with Japan. Even if some Chinese shoppers are giving Uniqlo and Toyota a miss, history shows that consumer boycotts have at best a short-lived effect. Economic warfare looks reassuringly hard to wage.

Sep 13, 2012
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China’s big fiscal guns best left in the holster

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By John Foley

The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

China’s fiscal guns are ready to fire. Premier Wen Jiabao reminded the world this week that government debt is low, and the country has scope to spend its way back to rapid growth. Investors believe it will: Shanghai’s stock market closed up on Sept.10, even as China showed August exports barely grew year on year.