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News from China
Global banks laud removal on cap
16th November 2017

 NTERNATIONAL banks that have for years been pressing for more access to Chinese capital markets are lauding new regulations that remove caps on foreign ownership of domestic commercial banks, asset management companies, securities firms, fund managers and life insurers.

 
Zhu Guangyao, vice finance minister, opened the investment door wider in an announcement last week.
 
Currently, a single foreign investor cannot own more than 20 percent of a bank or an asset manager, and total foreign ownership cannot exceed 25 percent.
 
Caps on shareholdings in securities firms, fund managers and life insurers will also be lifted to allow foreign investors to take majority stakes — and eventually full ownership.
 
The deregulation was hailed as a “remarkable milestone” by the financial research team at UBS Securities. It was a sentiment echoed throughout foreign corridors.
 
A total of 39 foreign banks have been locally incorporated in China by the end of 2016, with over 1,000 joint ventures, according to data from the China Banking Regulatory Commission. Collectively, their exposure to the country totaled a record high of US$1.89 trillion during the first half, latest data from rating agency Fitch show.
 
Easing of restrictions on their operations has been incremental since China promised to open up its financial markets gradually upon its entry into the World Trade Organization in 2001. Many foreign players have complained that excessive regulation has choked their efforts to gain any significant toehold in the world’s second-largest economy.
 
In frustration, some foreign banks have actually cut their footprint in China as a result. In January, Australia & New Zealand Banking Group Ltd, one of Australia’s biggest banks, joined a slew of lenders to sell its 20 percent stake in Shanghai Rural Commercial Bank.
 
Euphoria over the latest announcement comes as no surprise.
 
“HSBC welcomes the changes,” said Peter Wong, deputy chairman and chief executive of the Hongkong & Shanghai Banking Corp. “Further foreign participation will help China’s financial markets become more global, supporting greater internationalization of the yuan.”
 
In June, HSBC became the first foreign lender in China allowed to hold a maximum 51 percent of a securities joint venture, according to media reports.
 
“We welcome this milestone policy change, which we believe will bring further investment to China and create new business momentum for the financial services industry,” a spokesperson for Morgan Stanley said.
 
James Gorman, global chief executive of the US investment banking giant, said the bank will “seize the chance” to increase its stake in a local joint venture, according to a report in the South China Morning Post.
 
Earlier this year, the bank increased its share in Morgan Stanley Huaxin Securities, a joint venture with a local broker, to 49 percent from 33 percent.
 
JP Morgan Chase & Co, another global leader in financial services, said that it “welcomes any decision” made by the Chinese government that further liberalizes the financial sector. The bank said it will continue to “evaluate viable options” to strengthen its position in China.
 
Last year, JP Morgan sold its minority stake in a joint venture to its Chinese partner, First Capital Securities Co Ltd. At the time, it cited lack of control over the venture’s operations and the limited contribution it made to group revenue.
 
Citi China said “a more detailed roadmap” of liberalization would help foreign financial institutions “be better prepared” and it “looks forward to more open markets” to better support their clients, following the recent announcement.
 
Singapore’s OCBC Bank and United Overseas Bank, which are expanding their presence in the world’s second largest economy, also lauded the latest deregulation in financial services.
 
Darren Tan, chief financial officer at OCBC Bank, said continued liberalization of China’s financial services sector is “positive.” The Singaporean lender now owns 20 percent of the Bank of Ningbo, a city commercial bank and the maximum allowed before the policy change.
 
UOB (China) said it believes the latest policy shift will “encourage foreign banks to strengthen their investment” in China and “create more opportunities for growth.”
 
However, industry observers urged caution amid all the euphoria.
 
“These measures point to a further opening up of China’s financial sector,” wrote Nomura chief economist Zhao Yang in a report. “However, their impact will be only marginal in the short run and may take time to kick in more significantly.”
 
A research note from UBS Securities said foreign banks may now reassess the value of nationally licensed joint-stock banks or regional banks of superior quality and niche markets.
 
“With the ownership cap removed, smaller banks with geographical and niche market advantages may draw interest from foreign investors,” it said. “We believe the new policy will benefit listed insurance companies and securities firms more than banks.”
 
This is echoed by the opening of Manulife Investment (Shanghai) Limited Company today, the first foreign financial institution that has received the investment company wholly foreign-owned enterprises license.
 
“To us, China is a market of high significance,” said Michael Dommermuth, executive vice president, head of wealth and asset management, Asia, Manulife. The Toronto-headquartered multinational insurance company is betting big on the fast-growing asset management market in China.
 
Moody’s Investors Service said that China’s decision to allow foreign majority ownership of financial companies is “credit positive.”
Source: Shanghai Daily, November 16, 2017
Nepal scraps mega power deal with Chinese firm
15th November 2017

 Nepal has cancelled an agreement with a Chinese company to build the largest hydroelectric plant in the impoverished landlocked country, which suffers from chronic energy shortages.

 
The project, agreed in June, would have nearly doubled Nepal’s current hydropower production and cost an estimated US$2.5 billion.
 
But the finance ministry recommended it be scrapped, saying it had been awarded without an open and transparent bidding process, according to letters seen by AFP yesterday.
 
“The cabinet has terminated the irregular and impulsive Budhi Gandaki hydro electric project agreement with Gezhouba Group,” Deputy Prime Minister Kamal Thapa tweeted Monday following a cabinet meeting.
 
The government signed an agreement with the China Gezhouba Group Corporation in June to build the long-mooted 1,200 megawatt Budhi-Gandaki hydroelectric plant.
 
A Nepal representative for CGGC said they were surprised by the government’s decision.
 
“We had done quite a lot of work for the project... such decision is bound to alarm not just us but any investor. There is fear among other foreign companies as well,” Om Bandhu Karki, public relations manager for CGGC in Nepal, said.
 
Water-rich Nepal has a mountain river system that could make it an energy-producing powerhouse, but instead it imports much of its electricity from neighboring India.
 
Experts say it could be generating 83,000 megawatts, but its total installed generation capacity currently stands at less than two percent of that.
 
Demand for electricity has long outstripped supply in Nepal due to chronic under-investment and inefficiencies in the power network.
 
The result has been crippling for domestic industry and deterred foreign investment.
 
CGGC is currently building three smaller hydropower plants in Nepal and has completed another one.
 
Nepal’s government is also currently building a 750 megawatt plant.
 
Meanwhile, construction of two India-backed projects is expected to begin next year after years of delays.
Source: Shanghai Daily, November 15, 2017
China leads the world’s fastest supercomputers
14th November 2017

 ONCE again, China dominated a new list of the world’s fastest supercomputers, not only taking the top two seats, but also pulling ahead of the United States in the sheer number of systems being used.

 
According to a biannual ranking of the world’s 500 fastest supercomputers, called the Top500 published yesterday, China’s Sunway TaihuLight maintains the lead as the No. 1 system for the fourth time, with a performance of 93.01 petaflops.
 
China’s Tianhe-2, or Milky Way-2, is still the No. 2 system at 33.86 petaflops. Intel chip-based Tianhe-2 had topped the list for three years until it was displaced in November 2015 by TaihuLight, which was built entirely using processors designed and made in China.
 
Switzerland’s Piz Daint, which is also the most powerful supercomputer in Europe, is No. 3. A new system in Japan, called Gyoukou, is No. 4, pushing Titan, the top US system, to No. 5.
 
“For the second time in a row there is no system from the US under the Top 3,” Top500 said in a statement.
 
And that’s not all. The 50th edition of Top500 ranking also shows that China has overtaken the US in the total number of ranked systems by a margin of 202 to 144. Just six months ago, the US. led with 169 systems, and China with 159.
 
“It is the largest number of supercomputers China has ever claimed on the TOP500 ranking, with the US presence shrinking to its lowest level since the list’s inception 25 years ago,” Top500 said.
 
“China now clearly shows a substantially larger number of installations than the United States.”
 
China has also overtaken the US in aggregate performance as well, claiming 35.3 percent of the TOP500 flops, with the US at second place with 29.8 percent.
 
When it comes to companies making these systems, US-based Hewlett-Packard Enterprise leads in the number of installed supercomputers at 123, which represents nearly a quarter of all TOP500 systems.
 
China’s Lenovo followed HPE with 81 systems, down from 88 systems on the June list, and another Chinese company called Inspur jumped to the third position with 56 systems, up from sixth place and 20 systems only six month ago.
 
Liu Jun, Inspur’s high performance computing general manager, said China and its research institutes and companies have invested a lot in supporting HPC research, development and innovation.
 
“So China has improved greatly in its HPC competitiveness and performance,” he said. “In addition, the United States and Europe may have a more prolonged update cycle for their supercomputers.”
 
Liu cautioned that China’s overtaking of the US in the total number of ranked systems didn’t make too much sense.
 
“We should be soberly aware that core technologies of the mainstream products on the HPC market, such as CPU and GPU, are now still being dominated and controlled by US companies,” Liu said.
 
“China still lags far behind when compared with the US and Europe and requires continuous efforts for further development,” Liu said.
 
Experts also predicted that Summit, a system now being developed by the US Department of Energy, could dethrone China’s TaihuLight next year, with an expected performance of 200 petaflops.
 
Source: Shanghai Daily, November 14, 2017
Singles Day nets Alibaba US$25.4b
13th November 2017

 E-COMMERCE giant Alibaba said its Singles Day sales extravaganza hit US$25.4 billion on Saturday, smashing last year’s record and cementing it as the world’s biggest shopping event.

 
Once a celebration for China’s lonely hearts, Singles Day has become an annual 24-hour buying frenzy that exceeds the combined sales for Black Friday and Cyber Monday in the United States.
 
As tills shut at midnight on Saturday, Alibaba’s live sales ticker registered 168.3 billion yuan (US$25.4 billion), up 39 percent from 120.7 billion yuan a year earlier. The dollar figure was up more steeply due to the strength of the yuan against the US currency.
 
At the peak, 256,000 payments were being processed per second on Saturday, the firm said, more than 90 percent of them placed via mobile devices.
 
Alibaba’s rival JD.com, whose shopping season kicked off on November 1, reported 127.1 billion yuan of accumulative sales over the 11-day period.
 
Singles Day began soon after a star-studded event in Shanghai late on Friday. As midnight hit, a deluge of pre-orders helped drive a billion dollars of sales on Alibaba’s platforms in the first two minutes and US$10 billion in just over an hour.
 
“In terms of scale it just dwarfs any other event out there,” said Ben Cavender, Shanghai-based principal at China Market Research Group.
 
At just past the halfway mark, the headline gross merchandise volume swept past last year’s dollar total just shy of US$18 billion. Shortly afterward, sales surpassed the 2016 total in the local currency.
 
The event gets shoppers around China scouting for bargains and loading up their online shopping carts, while delivery staff — and robots — brace for an estimated 1.5 billion parcels expected over the next six days.
 
“This is a big event for China, for the Chinese economy,” said Joseph Tsai, Alibaba’s co-founder and vice chairman. “On Singles Day, shopping is a sport, it’s entertainment.”
 
Tsai said rising disposable incomes of China’s “over 300 million middle-class consumers” was helping drive the company’s online sales — and would continue. “This powerful group is propelling the consumption of China,” he said.
 
The final total — more than the GDP of Iceland or Cameroon — leaves other shopping days in the shade. Cyber Monday in the US saw US$3.45 billion in online sales last year.
 
Investors closely watch the headline number, though some analysts say the way it is calculated is too opaque. The US Securities and Exchange Commission launched an investigation into Alibaba’s accounting practices in 2016, including its Singles Day data. That investigation is as yet unresolved.
 
Last year, the sales number rose by nearly a third at the eighth version of the event — though that was slower than the 60 percent increase logged in 2015.
 
At Alibaba’s Friday night gala, the company’s co-founder and Chairman Jack Ma hosted guests including actress Nicole Kidman, singer Pharrell Williams and Chinese musicians and film stars including Zhang Ziyi and Fan Bingbing.
 
The excitement around the shopping blitz, however, masks the challenges facing China’s online retailers such as Alibaba and JD.com, which are having to spend more to compete for shoppers in a broader economy where growth is slowing.
 
“A lot of the lower hanging fruit has been picked and there’s increased competition for a share of consumer spending,” said Matthew Crabbe, Asia-Pacific research director at Mintel.
 
Online retailers are being forced to push offline sales as well as go overseas to attract new shoppers, and the overall online retail market was close to “saturation,” raising questions about whether the current rapid growth can be sustained.
 
“They’re having to spill over out of the purely online realm into the wider consumer market,” Crabbe said.
 
This has sparked deals to buy brick-and-mortar stores in China, and overseas tie-ups especially in Southeast Asia.
 
Alibaba turned 100,000 physical shops around China into “smart stores” for this year’s event. Goods perused by people at the stores, but bought and paid for on Alibaba’s platforms, were added to the sales total.
 
Fu Wenyue, a 23-year-old dresser in Shanghai, said offers this year were smaller but more “personalized” as brands used Big Data to hone their targets. Fu spent 4,000 yuan on clothes, cosmetics and kitchen utensils in pre-event sales, and kept shopping on the day.
 
“I think I spent even more than I did last year,” she said.
 
Environmentalists, meanwhile, accuse Alibaba and other e-commerce companies of fueling a culture of excessive consumption and mountains of waste.
 
Greenpeace said Singles Day deliveries last year created 130,000 tons of packaging waste — less than 10 percent of which was recycled.
 
It said e-commerce is more carbon-intensive than brick-and-mortar shopping, calling Singles Day a “disaster for the environment.”
 
Source: Shanghai Daily, November 13, 2017

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