Business and finance 1 March 2018

Are China’s state giants reformable?

AMONG investors it is fashionable to say that China’s state-owned enterprises (SOEs) do not matter much any more and that entrepreneurs now power the world’s second-largest economy. But China’s SOEs are still hard to avoid. They account for 40% of its stockmarket and a third of its investment, and they dominate heavy industry. On the global stage, SOEs’ appetites sway commodity prices and many are expanding abroad.These empires of men and machines account for 45 cents of every dollar of debt in China, so their health determines whether the country’s financial system will escape a crisis or blow up. And SOEs have become a loaded gun on the negotiating table between China and America. Treasury officials argue that China has broken the promises it made upon joining the World Trade Organisation in 2001 about further liberalising its economy. According to one negotiator, it is “abusing the system” by subsidising SOEs which in turn rig markets, dump cheap exports abroad and deter foreign...Continue reading

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German cars have the most to lose from changes facing the auto industry

GERMAN carmakers have much in common with the self-confident roadhogs who favour their vehicles. The cars they produce, with sleek design, doors that close with a satisfying thunk and roomy interiors swagged with leather and technology, are the dominant force at the upper end of the car market worldwide. At home, too, they are the purring engine of the economy; carmaking is by far Germany’s biggest industrial sector.But cars are changing. Electric power and autonomous vehicles will alter radically the way they are used (see special report). The difficulty in adapting threatens not only future revenues and profits at the big three—Daimler, BMW and Volkswagen (VW)–but also Germany’s status as a mean economic machine.For now they are ahead. Brands built on unmatched quality mean four-fifths of the world’s premium cars have...Continue reading

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China starts unwinding Anbang, its would-be financial giant

Terminal velocity“WHEN it comes to the meaning of life, we will all return to zero one day.” So philosophised Wu Xiaohui, a Chinese tycoon, as he reflected on his success in 2015. Little did he realise how soon his words would be proved true. He founded his firm, Anbang, as a small car-insurance company just over a decade ago. By 2017 it ranked among the world’s biggest insurers, with some $300bn of assets, including stakes in hotels and financial firms in America, Europe and Asia. But then, even more vertiginous than its ascent, came its fall. On February 23rd China’s government said it had taken over Anbang and would prosecute Mr Wu for economic crimes.Rarely in corporate history has a giant grown and collapsed so quickly. But Anbang’s tale is also interesting for what it reveals about China’s economic landscape. It is the clearest demonstration that regulators are serious about defusing debt risks that have built up in recent years. And it reveals the murky...Continue reading

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