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China Round-up: Chinese economy forecasts, Bitcoins and Dim-Sum Bonds

November 29, 2013

Starting this week CKGSB Knowledge is launching China Round-up, a weekly blog that summarizes for you the most notable business stories on China from the last seven days. Read on.

The week that was: pundits predict growth of over 7% for the Chinese economy; Chinese investors take to Bitcoins; and more dim-sum bonds head for Taiwan.

Looking Forward: China in 2014

Regardless of your attitude towards forecasting, it’s economic-outlook time of the year again—this week, institutions have begun to roll out their predictions about China’s economy in 2014. Last Friday, the Boston Consulting Group released their top 10 expectations for China, covering a variety of fields including the financial reform, the housing market as well as President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption policies. In general, the report strikes an optimistic tone and pins high hopes on China’s effort to further marketize its economy.

“China’s leadership will ignite the capital economy, funding an aggressive growth program with major infrastructure investments to support urban development,” the report says, predicting that China’s current dip will not last and with the “mighty” contribution from the reforms announced during the Third Plenum, the Chinese economy will grow faster (over 7%) in 2014 than in 2013, and ultimately “deliver $4 trillion in growth over the next decade”.

Also putting high values on the government-led reforms, Goldman Sachs on Tuesday upgraded equities in China and Russia to “overweight”, the equivalent of a “buy” recommendation, Bloomberg reported. The story also quotes Goldman Sachs’ report as saying stocks in emerging markets “should rebound as the developed market recovery becomes more evident” in the upcoming new year.

But for foreign investments, India might be preferable to China, as Ernst & Young’s bi-annual Capital Confidence Barometer shows on Monday. According to CNBC, the survey of 1,600 senior executives across more than 70 countries lists India and Brazil over China as the most favorable places to invest, citing India’s depreciating rupee and its increasing effort to attract FDI in more sectors. China ranked the first on the list six months ago.

China’s Bitcoin Mania

In the past few months, Bitcoin has been a buzzword for both tech and financial media. On Wednesday, the digital money was trading above $1,000 for the first time, more than twice of its value in previous weeks.

It wouldn’t have happened without the thirsty investors from China, who have taken up 62% of the entire global Bitcoin market, CNBC reported on Thursday. The China-based BTC China has also overtaken Mt. Gox as the world’s largest Bitcoin marketplace by volume. The Financial Times called China one of the “twin centres of speculative Bitcoin activity”(the other is of course the US), while CNBC warned investors that “Bitcoin’s fate could rest with China”.

Now the focus is all on the Chinese government—will it allow the virtual currency to continue to flourish in one of the world’s most restrained financial market? So far, the answer is yes.

According to The Wall Street Journal, PBOC Deputy Governor Yi Gang said at an economic forum last week that people are free to enter the Bitcoin market, although it would not be recognized as a legit financial instrument by the central bank in the near future. “You can go ‘mining’ and you can go to one of the exchange. But if you want to take the risk—and remember that prices rise and fall—it’s your business,” Yi said.

The current lenience is at odds with the bitter past of digital money in China—in 2007, the government issued a sweeping ban on the trading of QQ coin, a virtual currency created by tech giant Tencent that allows users to buy its value-added services online. The ban established that virtual currency can not buy physical goods or be traded in RMB, according to Xinhua, China’s official news agency.

No one knows if the government would eventually step in, but until then, Chinese investors would probably continue to embrace whatever they can other than the bleak domestic stock market.

Chinese Companies To Issue Yuan Bonds in Taiwan

The dim-sum bond has a name change in Taiwan—not “pearl milk tea”, but “Formosa bond” instead.

On Tuesday, Taiwan’s Financial Supervisory Commission decided to allow Chinese companies to issue yuan-denominated bonds on the island, and the first companies that are going to do so include Bank of Communications, Agricultural Bank of China and China Development Bank, reported the Wall Street Journal on Thursday.

Among those early birds, Bank of Communications is set to sell RMB 1.2 billion of bonds in Taiwan, which include a three-year tranche with 3.4% yield and a five-year tranche with 3.7% yield, according to CCTV News, the English channel of China’s central television.

The yuan bond market was initially opened in Taiwan at the beginning of the year, but remained closed to mainland issuers until this week. The current yuan deposits in Taiwan totaled only RMB 123.5 billion by the end of October, the Journal reported, while Hong Kong’s pool of the Chinese currency is around RMB 730 billion.

Foxconn to expand to Pennsylvania

Except for the current factories it operates in Texas and Indiana, the Taiwanese electronics manufacturer that makes the mast majority of your iPhones is going to build a new one in the US—according to CNN Money, Foxconn will spend $30 million on the new plant in Harrisburg, PA, which will hire up to 500 employees.

The group will also invest $10 million into an R&D partnership with Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University, the report says.

Foxconn’s move echoes the production shift of Apple, which is relocating some of its manufacturing back to the US. The tech giant announced earlier this year that its new line of Mac Pro desktop computers would be assembled in Texas; its second new plant in Arizona will make sapphire crystals, the material used on iPhone 5S’s fingerprint scanners, according to the Guardian. Those two plants will generate about 3,700 jobs together.

Qualcomm Under Scrutiny in China

China’s top economic planning body has reportedly launched an anti-trust investigation against Qualcomm, the world’s largest mobile chip maker.

According to Reuters, analysts believe that the probe by National Development and Reform Commission, or NDRC, may be a “pre-emptive measure that will allow China’s telecom providers to gain leverage in royalty negotiations”, in advance of the nationwide debut of the new 4G mobile networks.

The three biggest mobile network operators in China, China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom are going to invest more than $16.4 billion into equipment upgrade for the next generation of wireless networks, the report says, and Qualcomm “may be the only chipset provider” during the early phase of the roll-out.

“We suspect this investigation is related to the forthcoming launch of TD-LTE by China Mobile in early 2014 and the negotiations on chip pricing and license pricing between Qualcomm and Chinese-based handset (makers) that are likely occurring right now,” Raymond James analyst Tavis McCourt wrote in a note, according to Reuters.

NDRC hasn’t released any details regarding the investigation, and reporters at Caixin, a Chinese magazine, were told by “an inside source” that the investigation should remain “classified”.

(Image courtesy: iStockphoto)

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