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The New Trend in Foreign Exchange Investments of China

On September 26, 2008, an article in The Economic Observers Network
from China, in regards to the new trend in foreign exchange investments
of China after the economic crisis in the U.S. The following is the
translation of the Article. [1]

On September 26, 2008, an article in The Economic Observers Network from China, in regards to the new trend in foreign exchange investments of China after the economic crisis in the U.S. The following is the translation of the Article. [1]

Bound for Europe!
The New Trend in Foreign Exchange Investments

In recent two weeks, many high-level executives, from a number of the European private equity investment firms, who frequently showed up in Beijing, revealed by insiders. Some of them were invited by the interrelated Chinese government authorities to teach the technical skills and methods of investing in Europe. Some came on their own to search for investment opportunities in Europe.
This is a sign of concern. The insider informed the Economic Observers that following the U.S. financial crisis, the Chinese government is expected to speed-up the diversification of its investment of foreign exchange reserves. “The Chinese foreign exchange reserves hold too much U.S. dollars, and exactly they need to be diversified,” outright said Fu Yong Hai, the CEO of Asia-Pacific region, the Wealth Management Research Department of Union Bank of Switzerland (UBS).

The Investments of the State Administration of Foreign Exchange (SAFE)

As a matter of fact, the pertinent Chinese institutions have previously made many attempts. It began in 2007, SAFE has already held small amount of equities from close to 50 British publicly listed companies.

Since the beginning of 2008, SAFE has been frequently appeared on the list of international companies. This has attracted the attention of the global financial organizations.

On April 15, 2008, a spokesperson, in charge of the global investors’ relations of the British Petroleum (BP), confirmed that a Hong Kong-registered Hua (SAFE Investment Company, Ltd.) a subsidiary company of SAFE, purchased a grand total nearly 1% of the BP stocks. In terms of BP’s market value of the day, the investment from SAFE was almost $2 billion.

Previously, SAFE purchased 1.6% stocks, from the Total Petroleum (TOTAL), a French oil company. The said investment became the hot topic news among the investors. It was stated the grand total investment in TOTAL was around $2.8 billion.

Subsequently, SAFE has become a stockholder of Prudential, the second-largest British insurance company, holding 1% of the equities of Prudential. (It is estimated according to the current market value of Prudential,) SAFE invested about 1.34 million British pounds. It was said that SAFE used a Nominee Account; that is, through a secondary market agent to complete the transactions. After purchasing the stocks, SAFE has become one of the top 25 stockholders of Prudential.

According to the latest news, SAFE holds a small amount of equity, approximately, in50 British public listed companies.

By the end of March 2008, the total foreign exchange reserves have reached $1.68 trillion. The current data showed that they have already risen to $1.81 trillion. SAFE is faced with the troublesome management know-how problems.

Actually, according to the State Council of PRC, “The Three-Fixed Policies,” is one of SAFE’s main responsibilities to manage the nation’s foreign exchange reserves in accordance with the provisions of the foreign exchange reserves management of China.

It was reported in the beginning of 2005, SAFE has been permitted to invest 5% of the foreign exchange reserves in the overseas equity investments. Based on the total amount of $1.5 trillion in the foreign exchange reserves by the end of 2007, the total amount could have been invested were no less than $75 billion. For the present, SAFE has acquired, at least, $6.7 billion of stocks from the U.K. stock market through its Hong Kong-registered Hua (SAFE Investment Company, Ltd.) In actuality, this type of small-scale investment is in line with the investment policy of SAFE, which is to invest for financial returns, rather than control the companies, or influence the stability of the financial market.

The stock holdings from the U.K. stock market, Hua controls less than 1% of the total stock capital values of the companies, the vast majority holdings belongs to 100 (FTSE100) index of stocks, and the rest are from FTSE250 index of stocks.

Lu Ting, the Economist of the Merrill Lynch (Asia-Pacific) Ltd., believed that was a good phenomenon. He pointed out that the mid- to long-term investment of China’s foreign exchange reserves
will move to the long-term, non-U.S. assets, and proceed to diversified investments.

The external environment is also helpful to the changes in investment of SAFE. In January 2008, during the Prime Minister Brown’s visit in China, he bid his welcome to the Chinese Sovereignty Funds to invest in the U.K., hoping the U.K. could become the most favorable overseas investment nation of China.

“Timing is very essential to any investment; furthermore, the evaluation of different asset categories of the investment is also necessary,” said Deng Dade, the Senior Advisor from TerraFirma Foundation. The British Prime Minister’s comments, at least, should be viewed as the British is welcoming the economic investment of China in a positive cue.

Speed-up the Process

At present, the investments, in Europe is similar to that of SAFE, could be expedited in the near future.

The Economic Observers was informed that SAFE is not the only foreign exchange reserves, there are many other forms of foreign exchanges will be investing in Europe, the relevant Chinese authorities are discussing the issues related to such investments. This is a start-up of the selection process.

Some of the European financiers warned China that the Chinese need to be more honest and open in its process of investing in Europe. In the past, the low-profile investments from SAFE and the China Investment Corp had become the target of the “attacks,” from the people outside of their organizations.

Deng Dade, in charge of the state-owned assets management in Sweden, specified, “There is no fundamental difference in the nature between the China Investment Corporation and SAFE in terms of a sovereign wealth fund investment.” “The sensible way is to consult other state-owned organization’s principles of management.” “There are three principles to abide by: To be independent of politics, own self-decision making rights, and the clear objectives that benefit all parties concerned.” “Openness and honesty are guaranteed, and the rules and regulations will lead you to success.” Deng emphasized repeatedly. 

His comments were not without reasons. The Western media, in general, believe that SAFE and the China Investment Company don’t disclose their investment contents to the public. In the past, they even denied the existences of their registered companies outside of China. Their investments are also very difficult to be away from the political ditch.

Kerry Brown, the senior research analyst of Asian Projects from The Royal Institute of International Studies (the Chatham House,) indicated that the people are suspicious of SAFE’s other investment projects. As SAFE is purchasing stocks from the well-known companies in some of the areas, for the aforementioned-facts, the politicians and businessmen in these areas are filled with apprehension.

The Auvitek Financial Consultation expressed, “The proposals to the government investment institutes and the sovereign wealth fund investors show concerns about other investors enjoying the same consultation services. First of all, focus on the specific investment, and the investments in the currency market to bear the risk; secondly, evaluate the assets allocation from a long-term perspective, especially, in the currency and assets types of diversification; thirdly, give full consideration to build up systematic internal control, management system and risk assessment system to ensure that the future investment decisions on the risk and return.

[1] The Economic Observers, September 26, 2008