DealZone

CIC braves U.S. distressed assets

September 29, 2009

China is no stranger to rolling the dice on risky U.S. investments. But like most big investors, it has been staying away from the tables for a while. Now we have word that its $200 billion sovereign wealth fund is pouring $2 billion into three funds focused on U.S. distressed assets. The funds are run by Goldman Sachs, Oaktree Capital and a third, as yet unidentified manager.

At only 1 percent of its portfolio, the balance of risk to Chinese wealth is small. CIC has pumped up its investment volume recently, buying a 14.5 percent stake in commodities trading firm Noble Group for $850 million just last week. Resources may seem like a better investment for a Chinese state-linked fund than distressed U.S. assets, given the country’s gaping hunger for commodities. But China’s macroeconomic exposure to the U.S. economy is at least as important to its future as its ability to source foreign raw materials. And with the dollar against the ropes, distressed U.S. assets may offer China a better bang for its buck.

CIC made a profit of $10 billion last year as it benefited from staying largely in cash and avoiding new investments in Western banks, a source close to the fund told us in February. But it lost over half of an initial $8 billion it ploughed into private equity firm Blackstone and Morgan Stanley when the fund was set up in September 2007.

CIC Chairman Lou Jiwei (pictured above) said in Hong Kong last December that he was “not brave enough” to invest in financial institutions at that time. He seems to have found his nerve.

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