- China Big Bang Moment Opens Banks, Funds to Foreign Control
China took a major step toward the long-awaited opening of its financial system, saying it will remove foreign ownership limits on banks and asset-management companies while allowing overseas firms to take majority stakes in local securities ventures and insurers.
The new rules, unveiled at a government briefing on Friday, will give global financial companies unprecedented access to the world’s second-largest economy. The announcement coincides with Donald Trump’s visit to Beijing and bolsters the reform credentials of Chinese President Xi Jinping less than a month after he cemented his status as the nation’s most powerful leader in decades.
While China has already made big strides in opening its equity and bond markets to foreign investors, international banks and securities firms have long been frustrated by ownership caps that made them marginal players in one of the fastest-expanding financial systems on Earth.
Those who enter China will face plenty of risks, including competition from state-owned players and the threat of rising defaults, but optimists say the opening will create new opportunities for foreign firms and make the domestic financial system more efficient.
“It’s a key message that China continues to open up and make its financial markets more international and market-oriented,” said Shen Jianguang, chief Asia economist at Mizuho Securities Asia Ltd. in Hong Kong. “How important a role foreign financial firms can play remains to be seen.”
Regulators are drafting detailed rules, which will be released soon, Vice Finance Minister Zhu Guangyao said at the briefing in Beijing. Here’s what we know so far:
- Foreign firms will be allowed to own stakes of up to 51 percent in securities ventures; China will scrap foreign ownership limits for securities companies three years after the new rules are effective
- The country will lift the foreign ownership cap to 51 percent for life insurance companies after three years and remove the limit after five years
- Limits on ownership of fund management companies will be raised to 51 percent, then completely removed in three years
Chinese markets took the news in their stride, with the nation’s benchmark Shanghai Composite Index trading little changed after the announcement. Shares of Chinese financial companies were mixed in Hong Kong.
Foreign financial companies applauded the move, with JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Morgan Stanley saying in statements that they’re committed to China. UBS Group AG said it will continue to push for an increased stake in its Chinese joint venture.
Policy makers had hinted at an opening in recent months. Just yesterday, China’s Foreign Ministry said entry barriers to sectors such as banking, insurance, securities and funds would be “substantially” eased “in accordance to China’s own timetable and road map.” People’s Bank of China Governor Zhou Xiaochuan, who has spent much of this year amplifying calls for financial reform, advocated greater competition in the financial sector in June.
The announcement’s timing, on the day Trump ended his first visit to China as U.S. president, may help him claim some credit for the opening and for warmer ties between the two world powers, but the decision was almost certainly the result of long behind-the-scenes planning by Chinese authorities, according to Iris Pang, a China economist at ING Groep NV in Hong Kong.
Bloomberg News reported in September that the PBOC was drafting a package of reforms that would give foreign investors greater access to the financial services industry, citing people familiar with the matter. JPMorgan Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon said earlier this year that the bank was patiently negotiating with Chinese regulators for structures that would eventually give it full control.
“I believe China has planned for this for a very long time, and now is the right time to announce it because Trump is visiting,” ING’s Pang said. China is likely to push for improved access to U.S. markets for its financial firms, she added.
The relaxed ownership rules follow a period in which most overseas lenders have lost interest in direct stakes in their Chinese counterparts. After sales by Citigroup Inc., Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and others, HSBC Holdings Plc is the only international bank with a major holding — a 19 percent stake in Bank of Communications Co. HSBC has been building its business on the mainland as part of a “pivot to Asia” under outgoing Chief Executive Officer Stuart Gulliver.
Foreign banks held 2.9 trillion yuan ($436 billion) of assets in China at the end of 2016, accounting for 1.26 percent of the nation’s total banking assets, the lowest share since 2003, according to the China Banking Regulatory Commission. They earned 12.8 billion yuan in the nation last year, less than 1 percent of the profits at Chinese counterparts.
Even if they take full control of their China ventures, international financial companies will face multiple challenges. One of the biggest is competition from government-controlled rivals, who currently dominate the nation’s financial system and have longstanding relationships with giant state-owned companies that drive much of China’s economic activity.
Then there’s the country’s record debt burden, which amounts to an estimated 260 percent of gross domestic product after government-run lenders juiced the economy with easy money in recent years to avoid a deep economic slowdown. The country suffered its first onshore corporate bond default in 2014 and has seen at least 20 defaults so far this year. Prominent investors including Hayman Capital Management’s Kyle Bass and billionaire George Soros have warned that the country could be headed for a financial crisis.
Still, there’s little sign of an imminent blowup. Bank earnings in China swelled to 2.1 trillion yuan last year, up four-fold since 2008, and earnings in the securities industry have more than doubled over the same period to 123 billion yuan, according to regulatory data.
Chinese authorities have also taken steps to curb excesses in the banking system, embarking on a campaign this year to clean up some of the nation’s riskiest financial products. The potential influx of foreign capital and expertise could help China manage the aftermath of the credit binge and help prevent a repeat, according to Tom Orlik, the Chief Asia Economist at Bloomberg Economics.
Overseas firms will “calculate the risk-reward margin carefully,” said Raymond Yeung, chief Greater China economist at Australia & New Zealand Banking Group in Hong Kong. “That said, the scale of the market is something they won’t ignore.”
Oil Prices Drop on Stronger U.S Dollar
The strong U.S Dollar pressured global crude oil prices on Thursday despite the big drop in U.S crude oil inventories.
The Brent crude oil, against which Nigerian oil is priced, dropped by 74 cents or 1 percent to settle at $73.65 a barrel at 4.03 am Nigerian time on Thursday.
The U.S West Texas Intermediate crude oil depreciated by 69 cents or 1 percent to $71.46 a barrel after reaching its highest since October 2018 on Wednesday.
“Energy markets became so fixated over a robust summer travel season and Iran nuclear deal talks that they somewhat got blindsided by the Fed’s hawkish surprise,” said Edward Moya, senior market analyst at OANDA.
“The Fed was expected to be on hold and punt this meeting, but they sent a clear message they are ready to start talking about tapering and that means the dollar is ripe for a rebound which should be a headwind for all commodities.”
The U.S. dollar boasted its strongest single day gain in 15 months after the Federal Reserve signaled it might raise interest rates at a much faster pace than assumed.
A firmer greenback makes oil priced in dollars more expensive in other currencies, potentially weighing on demand.
Still, oil price losses were limited as data from the Energy Information Administration showed that U.S. crude oil stockpiles dropped sharply last week as refineries boosted operations to their highest since January 2020, signaling continued improvement in demand.
Also boosting prices, refinery throughput in China, the world’s second largest oil consumer, rose 4.4% in May from the same month a year ago to a record high.
“This pullback in oil prices should be temporary as the fundamentals on both the supply and demand side should easily be able to compensate for a rebounding dollar,” Moya said.
Oil Rises as Threat of Immediate Iran Supply Recedes
Oil prices rose on Tuesday, with Brent gaining for a fourth consecutive session, as the prospect of extra supply coming to the market soon from Iran faded with talks dragging on over the United States rejoining a nuclear agreement with Tehran.
Indirect discussions between the United States and Iran, along with other parties to the 2015 deal on Tehran’s nuclear program, resumed on Saturday in Vienna and were described as “intense” by the European Union.
A U.S. return to the deal would pave the way for the lifting of sanctions on Iran that would allow the OPEC member to resume exports of crude.
It is “looking increasingly unlikely that we will see the U.S. rejoin the Iranian nuclear deal before the Iranian Presidential Elections later this week,” ING Economics said in a note.
Other members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) along with major producers including Russia — a group known as OPEC+ — have been withholding output to support prices amid the pandemic.
“Additional supply from OPEC+ will be needed over the second half of this year, with demand expected to continue its recovery,” ING said.
To meet rising demand, U.S. drillers are also increasing output.
U.S. crude production from seven major shale formations is forecast to rise by about 38,000 barrels per day (bpd) in July to around 7.8 million bpd, the highest since November, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said in its monthly outlook.
Oil Prices Rise as Demand Improves, Supplies Tighten
Oil prices rose on Monday, hitting their highest levels in more than two years supported by economic recovery and the prospect of fuel demand growth as vaccination campaigns in developed countries accelerate.
Brent was up 53 cents, or 0.7%, at $73.22 a barrel by 1050 GMT, its highest since May 2019.
U.S. West Texas Intermediate gained 44 cents, or 0.6%, to $71.35 a barrel, its highest since October 2018.
“The two leading crude markers are trading at (almost) two-and-a-half-year highs amid a potent bullish cocktail of demand optimism and OPEC+ supply cuts,” said Stephen Brennock of oil broker PVM.
“This backdrop of strengthening oil fundamentals have helped underpin heightened levels of trading activity.”
Motor vehicle traffic is returning to pre-pandemic levels in North America and much of Europe, and more planes are in the air as anti-coronavirus lockdowns and other restrictions are being eased, driving three weeks of increases for the oil benchmarks.
The mood was also buoyed by the G7 summit where the world’s wealthiest Western countries sought to project an image of cooperation on key issues such as recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and the donation of 1 billion vaccine doses to poor nations.
“If the inoculation of the global population accelerates further, that could mean an even faster return of the demand that is still missing to meet pre-Covid levels,” said Rystad Energy analyst Louise Dickson.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) said on Friday that it expected global demand to return to pre-pandemic levels at the end of 2022, more quickly than previously anticipated.
IEA urged the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and allies, known as OPEC+, to increase output to meet the rising demand.
The OPEC+ group has been restraining production to support prices after the pandemic wiped out demand in 2020, maintaining strong compliance with agreed targets in May.
On the supply side, heavy maintenance seasons in Canada and the North Sea also helped prices stay high, Dickson said.
U.S. oil rigs in operation rose by six to 365, the highest since April 2020, energy services company Baker Hughes Co said in its weekly report.
It was the biggest weekly increase of oil rigs in a month, as drilling companies sought to benefit from rising demand.
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