China private sector

Reworking a formula for economic success — China Daily Commentary

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Reworking a formula for economic success

By PETER FUHRMAN (China Daily) Updated: 2016-04-08

Reworking a formula for economic success
An assembly line of a Daimler AG venture in Minhou, Fujian province.

My on-the-ground experience in China stretches back to the beginnings of the reform era in 1981. Yet I cannot recall a time when so much pessimism, especially in English-language media, has surrounded the Chinese economy. Yes, it is a time of large, perhaps unprecedented transition and challenge.

But the negative outlook is overdone, and starts from a false premise. China does not need to search for a new economic model to generate further prosperity. Instead, what is happening now is a return to a simple formula that has previously worked extraordinarily well: applying pressure on China’s State-owned enterprises to improve their efficiency and profitability, while also doing more to tap China’s most abundant and valuable “natural resource”-the entrepreneurial spirit of the Chinese people, the talent to start a company, provide new jobs and build a successful new business.

These two together provided the impetus for the economic growth since the 1990s. In the 1990s, SOEs accounted for perhaps as much as 90 percent of China’s total economic output. Today, the SOEs’ share has fallen to below 40 percent by most counts. Once the main engine of growth, SOEs are now more like an anchor. Profits across the SOEs have been sinking, while their debt has risen sharply.

Arresting that slide of SOEs is now vital. SOE reform has long been on the agenda of the Chinese government. But such a reform has become more urgent than ever, as well as more difficult. There are fewer SOEs today than in 1991 when serious SOE reform was first undertaken. Among those that remain, many are now extremely big and rank among the biggest companies in the world. The restructuring of any such large company is always difficult.

China, however, has taken some key first steps in that direction. The Chinese government has divided SOEs into those that will operate entirely based on market principles and those that perform a social function. It is downsizing the coal and steel industries, two of the largest red-ink sectors. Senior managers of some large SOEs have been dismissed or are under investigation for corruption, and experiments linking SOEs’ salaries more directly with profitability are underway.

Less noticed, but in my opinion, as important is a strong push now at some SOEs and SOE-affiliated companies to become not better but among the best in the world at what they do. Tsinghua Unigroup in semiconductors, China National Nuclear Corporation and China General Nuclear Power in building and operating nuclear power plants, and CITIC Group in eldercare are seeking global glory. They are trying to sprint while most other SOEs are limping.

Luckily for China, the overall situation in the entrepreneurial sector is far rosier. All it needs is a more level playing field. Important steps to further free up the private sector are now underway-taxes are being cut, banks pushed to lend more, and markets long closed to protect SOE monopolies are being pried open. Healthcare is a good example in this regard.

All these moves are part of what the government calls its new “supply side” policy. The aim is to demolish barriers to competition and efficiency. Chinese entrepreneurs have shown time and again they have world-class aptitude to spot and seize opportunities. They are leading the charge now into China’s underdeveloped service sector. This, more than manufacturing or exports, is where new jobs, profits and growth will come from.

Opportunities also await smart entrepreneurs in less efficient industries like agriculture, in getting food products to market quickly, cheaply and safely. In cities, traditional retail has been hit hard by online shopping. Struggling shopping malls are becoming giant laboratories where entrepreneurs are incubating new ideas on how Chinese consumers will shop, play, eat and be entertained.

China’s economy is now 30 times larger than what it was in 1991, and far more complex. The private sector 25 years ago was then truly in its infancy. But, there is still huge scope today for China to gain from its original policy prescription: prodding SOEs to get in line for reform while letting entrepreneurs meet the needs of Chinese consumers.

The author is chairman and CEO of China First Capital.

http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/opinion/2016-04/08/content_24364851.htm

China’s central government gets serious about changing IPO rules and helping SMEs raise capital, Global Times article

globatimes

 

Govt calls for progress in IPO reform to help small firms

By Wang Xinyuan Source:Global Times Published: 2014-11-24

 

Amid a slowing economy, the Chinese government is considering strategies to help the country’s cash-starved micro and small companies. Upcoming IPO reform is expected to offer easier access to stock market funding, but investors are concerned it could divert funds from existing stocks.

 

While China’s economy has been affected by a weakening property sector, erratic foreign demand and sagging domestic investment growth, the authorities are hoping that the country’s millions of micro and small enterprises (MSEs) can offer a source of economic energy.

The State Council, the country’s cabinet, pledged on Wednesday to lower the cost of raising funds by giving banks more flexibility to lend and removing rigid profit requirements for a firm to get listed in stock markets, among other measures aimed at making it easier for small firms to grow.

At the meeting on Wednesday, Premier Li Keqiang urged the securities regulator to speed up plans to unveil simplified rules for new IPOs.

Two days after the cabinet’s meeting, the central bank cut interest rates for the first time in two years.

While the rate cut will be of particular benefit for large State-owned enterprises, simplified IPO access is expected to make it easier for cash-starved smaller firms to raise money directly in the markets.

Under the existing IPO scheme, applicants must meet certain conditions in order to get listed in Shanghai or Shenzhen, including having made a profit for at least two consecutive years and having net profit of at least 10 million yuan ($1.63 million).

Even if they meet these requirements, IPO applicants are also subject to the review and approval procedures of the China Securities Regulatory Commission (CSRC), the securities watchdog.

The CSRC suspended its IPO reviews in late 2012 in a bid to enhance information disclosure and crack down on rampant financial fraud and insider trading.

The CSRC also wanted to lay solid foundations for a new round of IPO reform intended to diminish government intervention and establish a more efficient, market-based IPO filing system.

The regulator restarted IPO approvals in December 2013 after a 13-month hiatus.

However, the suspension had resulted in a long queue of IPO applicants. As of mid-November this year, 570 firms were waiting for their applications to be reviewed, according to media reports.

A plan for an IPO filing system with a focus on information disclosure is likely to be released by the end of 2014, the 21st Century Business Herald reported on Thursday, citing a source close to the CSRC.

Equal access

Under the new IPO registration system, the CSRC will no longer intervene in the listing process and will focus on supervision rather than review and approval, analysts said.

The system will provide access to market financing for all firms, not just those at the front of the queue for IPO approval, and the investment value shall be judged by investors, not the government, Dong Dengxin, director of the Finance and Securities Institute at Wuhan University of Science and Technology, wrote on his Weibo on Saturday.

The CSRC was not available for comment on the schedule of IPO registration reform when reached by the Global Times on Thursday.

As China tries to move up the value chain and restructure its economy, small firms have become increasingly important. They also account for more than 70 percent of the country’s jobs.

“While the IPO reforms are absolutely correct in their direction and implementation, the capital markets in China are still unable to provide the financing needed for most MSEs to continue to grow,” Peter Fuhrman, chairman and CEO of Shenzhen-based investment bank China First Capital, told the Global Times in an e-mail on Saturday.

Relatively slow approval of IPOs and the exceptionally long waiting list are seen as the major reasons for the difficult funding.

There are “thousands of Chinese MSEs with good size and profits” that are waiting to go public, said Fuhrman.

Read full article.

Hong Kong IPO Today for China First Capital Client Hydoo

Hydoo Prospectus

Welcome good news today from Hong Kong’s capital markets. The Chinese commercial real estate developer Hydoo (Chinese name 毅德) successfully IPOs on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, raising over USD$200mn in new capital. With IPO channels for Chinese companies mainly blockaded, it’s especially welcome to see a Chinese private sector company raising so much from the stock market.  In this case, the delight is greater because Hydoo is a client of China First Capital. We acted as Hydoo’s investment bankers raising USD$80mn from Chinese private equity firm Hony Capital.  Hony’s 2011 investment, based on today’s IPO price, is now worth USD$150mn.

In addition to Hony, China’s giant financial services group Ping An also invested before IPO.  In total, Hydoo raised USD$140mn (Rmb 860mn) of institutional capital before IPO. Over 60% of the IPO shares (worth over $120mn) were sold by underwriters ahead of time to so-called “cornerstone investors“, including two large Chinese SOEs, Huarong and China Taiping Insurance, as well as retailer Suning (in which Hony owns a share).

I’m happy for Hony and the other investors, but happier still for Hydoo founders, particularly its chairman, Wang Zaixing, known to friends and family  as “Laowu”, literally “Venerable Fifth”. He is the fifth-born of ten children all of whom played a part in building Hydoo. The family is originally from Chaozhou in Guangdong, and speak the distinctive Chaozhou dialect. But, they ended up after 1949 in Ganzhou, Jiangxi Province.

The business Laowu started 18 years ago is now worth over $1 billion. The first time I met him, I told Laowu my goal as his investment banker, and my emphatic expectation,  was that his company would be worth at least that much at the time of its IPO. Another priority of mine was that he and his family members would still hold majority control after IPO.  That too has been achieved.  They hold almost 60% of the now publicly-traded business.

For me, Laowu personifies in many ways the large economic changes China has undergone in the last 30 years. He started life as a long-distance truck driver and from that humble start saw and grasped an opportunity to build wholesale trading centers for the emerging army of small businesspeople in China.

I first met Laowu and his company in 2009. The business was then called Haode (豪德). It was then still an old-school Chinese family business. There was no corporate structure in the traditional sense. Laowu and his brothers, sister and nephews would pair up, or act independently, to do individual large wholesale trading centers around China. When I met them, the family had already done 19 such projects. All had done very well. At the time, I’d never met a Chinese private company as profitable over as many years as Haode.

Over the last three years, the company has been transformed into a more professional enterprise. Hydoo provides a useful excellent template for how a Chinese family-owned business can make this transition to a publicly-traded company. Part of that process was splitting up the family’s existing business between a group that would follow Laowu and become shareholders of Hydoo, and five other siblings who chose not to participate, but remain active in some cases building their own wholesale trading centers.

As the IPO prospectus puts it,  this division was “a complex, delicate process involving the allocation of assets or interests in the existing businesses among a group of closely connected family members, who decided to split up into two independent groups with diverging goals going forward. Under the special circumstances, no written agreements were entered into in respect of the Family Allocation and no valuation appraised by independent valuers was undertaken when negotiating the Family Allocation. Instead, the Wang Family Group placed their focus on more subjective, personal factors.”

Me and my firm played a small part by advising Laowu and his siblings on the pros and cons of being part of a company planning for an IPO. But, as you’d expect, most of this was done within the private confines of a large, closely-knit family.  Along the way, though, I gained a deeper appreciation of the unique ways Chaozhou people do business.

Chaozhou natives are rightly famous both in China and throughout much of Southeast Asia for their business acumen. They are often described by other Chinese as “the Jews of China”.  As a Jew in China, I tend to think the description flatters my people. Chaozhou people seem to have an instinctive and unsurpassed talent for making money and entrepreneurship. Look around the world at the most successful Chinese business people, including the leading business families in Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong, and a large percentage, including Asia’s richest magnate, Li Ka-shing, Thailand’s richest businessman Dhanin Chearavanont  and Indonesia’s top tycoon, Mochtar Riady, are either from Chaozhou or are descended from people who immigrated from there.

As this suggests, Chaozhou people are able and willing to uproot themselves and chase opportunities. Laowu didn’t leave China, but in building Hydoo, he did venture far afield from where he and his family were raised. He saw very early and profited richly from an economic shift within China that few others noticed 15 years ago. At the time, much of China’s economic growth was centered in southern China, and large coastal cities like Shanghai, Shenzhen, Xiamen. Laowu looked inland, especially in Shandong Province, one thousand miles north of Chaozhou.

As the economies of Shanghai and big southern coastal cities began to cool, inland areas, led by Shandong, began to boom. Shandong’s GDP growth, over the last ten years, has been among the highest of any part of China. Shandong is a huge market to itself (population 95mn) as well as a vital crossroads for commerce between north and south, east and west in China. Laowu built large wholesale parks to accommodate thousands of small traders, creating new clusters of small-scale commerce and entrepreneurship.

When you visit one of these centers, you get the impression that half of Shandong’s gdp is going in and out the doors. It’s crowded and vibrant. Even the smallest traders own their own small shop inside the Hydoo centers. That’s Hydoo’s model: they build the buildings, and as they do, sell off most of the units to thousands of individual small traders. Hydoo helps them get mortgages and often acts as guarantor on the loans. This lets thousands of small businesspeople become property-owners. As the Hydoo centers thrive (and they all do, as far as I know) the value of the real estate rises.

I know of no other businessman in China that has done as much as Laowu to build wealth and provide an entrepreneurial hub for such a large number of people in China. Hydoo is now spreading across more areas of China. It’s is building huge new wholesale parks in Sichuan, Hunan, Guangxi, Gansu.

I see Laowu infrequently these days. But, I’m as impressed now as I was when I first met him by his accomplishments. He and his family founded a business back when China was a different and less developed place. They stuck with it, kept reinvesting and now, through today’s IPO,  own shares worth more money than I can imagine. But, more important for me is that they still own the business, still own the majority and so answer to no one else. As an entrepreneur who helped create and sustain so many other entrepreneurs, Laowu deserves nothing less.

 

New capital drought threatens growth in China — China Daily

Continued lack of IPO proceeds and private equity input will damage China’s economic reform

By Peter Fuhrman

China’s private sector is experiencing an unprecedented shortage of new investment capital. The two predominant flows of growth capital for China’s private sector – initial public offering proceeds and new investments by more than 1,000 private equity firms active in China – have both dried up.

As recently as 2011, IPOs and PE firms pumped $20 billion (15 billion euros) to $30 billion a year of new capital into private companies in China. In the past nine months, that figure has dropped to almost zero.

Even when IPOs cautiously resume, the flow of capital to private companies will likely remain at levels far below recent years. If so, it will quite possibly damage the plans of the Chinese government, as well as the hopes of many of its citizens, to “rebalance” the Chinese economy away from reliance on state-owned enterprises and toward one oriented more toward meeting the needs and fulfilling the hopes of the country’s 1.3 billion people.

All companies need capital to grow. This is especially true among China’s private sector businesses. They operate in a particularly fast-growing market, where both opportunities and competitors are plentiful. Private sector companies are also the main source of new jobs in China, and an increasingly vital contributor to overall GDP growth.

Over the past decade, these Chinese companies became perhaps the world’s hottest investment targets. China’s PE industry, both dollar and yuan, grew from basically zero to become the second-largest in the world. PE firms raised more than $200 billion to invest in China and then put money in more than 10,000 Chinese companies. At the same time, Hong Kong, New York and China each year vied for the title of world’s largest IPO market, with most of the deals being new offerings by Chinese companies.

New capital drought threatens growth

China still has more of the world’s best, most talented private sector entrepreneurs than any country. Investing in their companies remains one of the best ways to make money anywhere. But, for the moment, only a few are willing to try.

This problem is at its core a market failure caused by the loss of investor confidence inside and outside China in the true financial situation of its private sector companies. Questions are raised about financial fraud inside Chinese private companies. Though the concerns are real, the problems are of limited scope, often technical, and the market’s reaction has been severely overblown.

The accounting issues first arose in the US, with the uncovering of several cases of phony accounts among Chinese private companies quoted there. The contagion of doubt spread first to other Chinese private sector companies already listed or seeking to IPO in the US, then to those waiting for an IPO in Hong Kong, until recently the largest market in the world for new IPOs.

Finally, from the summer of 2012, the stock markets on the Chinese mainland began shutting down new IPOs. When the IPOs stopped, most PE firms stopped investing.

The PE firms are sitting on more than $40 billion in capital that they say is for investing in China’s fast-growing private sector companies. But that money is now idle in bank accounts, not going to help good companies become better.

The longer China’s private sector goes without access to major new capital, the more unbalanced the Chinese economy may become.

I first came to China in 1981. During the past 32 years, China’s private sector has gone from non-existent to producing more than half of the country’s GDP. The private sector produces just about everything ordinary Chinese rely on to better the quality of their lives – not just more and better-paying jobs, but also new housing, shops, clothing, restaurants, tutoring for their children and a vibrant Internet and e-commerce industry.

As these private companies have gone from small mom-and-pops to some giant businesses, including virtually all China’s leading domestic consumer brands, the dependence on IPO proceeds and PE money has become almost absolute. So, the dramatic slowdown in the flow of capital to private companies will have an impact on these businesses, their customers and ultimately China’s GDP.

At this point, the only outside financing available for Chinese private companies are bank loans, which remain difficult and costly to arrange. The banking system is, however, fixated on lending to state-owned enterprises. That leaves only the so-called “shadow banking system”, where loan sharks provide short-term money at interest rates of at least 25 percent per year. But, recently, even many loan sharks have fled the marketplace.

The Chinese government has created a set of policies that allowed the private sector to flourish. It also encouraged the flow of capital from the PE industry and IPOs. The plan had been to rely on the private economy to shoulder much of the burden of restructuring the Chinese economy away from SOEs and exports, while creating new jobs and supplying the goods consumers most want.

But that planned rebalancing cannot happen without money, without new capital for the private sector. Instead of a rebalance, China’s economy is possibly headed toward a more lopsided reliance on the state sector and big-ticket government spending projects.

(The author is founder and chairman of China First Capital, a China-focused investment banking and advisory firm. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.)

 

Download PDF version.

 

M&A Policy & Policy-making in China — A Visit to China’s Ministry of Commerce

(Me in borrowed suit* alongside Deputy Director General of the Policy Research Department, China Ministry of Commerce)

China’s Ministry of Commerce invited me last week to give a private talk at their Beijing headquarters. The subject was the changing landscape for M&A in China. It was a great honor to be asked, and a thoroughly enjoyable experience to share my views with a team from the Policy Research Department at the Ministry.

For those whose Chinese is up to it, you can have a look at the PPT by clicking here The title translates as “China’s M&A Market: A New Strategy Targeting Unexited PE Deals”.

My China First Capital colleague, and our company’s COO, Dr. Yansong Wang offered our firm’s view that the current crisis of unexited private equity deals is creating an important opportunity for M&A in China to help strengthen, consolidate and restructure the private sector. Buyout firms and strategic acquirers, both China domestic and offshore, will all likely step up their acquisition activity in coming years, targeting China’s stronger private sector companies.

Potentially, this represents a highly significant shift for M&A in China, and so a shift in the workload and travel schedule of the Ministry of Commerce officials. M&A within China, measured both in number and size of deals,  has historically been a fraction of cross-border transactions like the acquisition of Volvo or Nexen

The Ministry of Commerce occupies the most prominent location of any government department in China, with the exception of the Public Security Ministry. Both are on Chang’an Avenue (aka “Eternal Peace Street” on 长安街)a short distance from Tiananmen Square

The Ministry of Commerce plays an active and central role in economic policy-making. Many of the key reforms and policy changes that have guided China’s remarkable economic progress over the last thirty years got their start there. The Ministry of Commerce is also the primary regulator for most M&A deals in China, both domestic and cross-border.

The key sources of growth for China’s economy have shifted from SOEs to private sector companies, from exports to satisfying the demands of China’s huge and fast-growing domestic market. In the future, M&A in China will follow a similar path. That was the main theme of our talk. More M&A deals will involve Chinese private sector companies combining either with each other, or being acquired by larger international companies eager to expand in China.

Ministry officials were quick to grasp the importance of this shift. They asked if policy changes were required or new administrative practices. We shared some ideas. China’s FDI has slowed recently. That is an issue of substantial concern to the Ministry of Commerce. M&A targeting China’s private sector companies represents a potentially useful new channel for productive foreign capital to enter China.

M&A, as the Ministry officials quickly understood, also can help ease some of the pain caused to private companies by the block in IPOs and steep decline in new private equity funding. In particular, they focused their questions on the impact on Chinese larger-scale private sector manufacturing industries.

I found the officials and staff I met with to be practical, knowledgeable and inquisitive. Market forces, and the exit crisis in China’s private equity industry, are driving this change in the direction of M&A in China. But, policies and regulatory guidance issued from the Ministry of Commerce headquarters can – and I believe will — also play a constructive role.

* Three days before my visit,  the Ministry of Commerce suggested I should probably wear a suit, as senior officials there do.  By that time, I’d already arrived in Beijing, so needed to borrow one from a friend. The suit was tailored for someone 40 pounds heavier. As a result, as the above photo displays, I managed to be overdressed and poorly-dressed at the same time.

 

 

Going Private: The Unstoppable Rise of China’s Private-Sector Entrepreneurs

Qing Jun-style, from China First Capital blog post

China’s private sector economy continues to perform miracles. According to figures just released by China’s National Bureau of Statistics, private companies in China now employ 70 million people, or 80 percent of China’s total industrial workforce. These same private companies account for 70% of all profits earned by Chinese industry. Profits at private companies rose 31.4% in 2008 over a year earlier, while those of China’s state-owned enterprises (so-called SOEs) fell by 16%. 

The rise of China’s private sector is, in my view, the most remarkable aspect of China’s economic development. When I first came to China in 1981, there were no private companies at all. SOEs continued to be favored sons, until recently. Only in 2005 did the Chinese government introduce a policy that gave private companies the same market access, same treatment in project approval, taxation, land use and foreign trade as SOEs. During that time, over 150,000 new private companies have gotten started and by 2008 had annual sales of over Rmb 5 million.   

These statistics only look at industrial companies, where SOEs long predominated. By last year, fully 95% of all industrial businesses in China were privately-owned. In the service sector, the dominance of private companies is even more comprehensive, as far as I can tell. While banks and insurance companies are all still largely state-owned, most of the rest of the service economy is in private hands – shops of all kinds, restaurants, barbers, hotels, dry cleaners, real estate agents, ad agencies, you name it. 

Other than the times I fly around China (airlines are still mainly state-owned) and when I pay my electric bill, I can’t think of any time my money goes directly to an SOE. This is not something, of course, I could have envisioned back in 1981. The transformation has both been so fast and so thoroughgoing. And yet, it still has a long way to go, as these latest figures suggest. Almost certainly, private company business formation and profit-generation will continue to grow strongly in 2009 and beyond. SOE contribution to the Chinese economy, while still significant,  grows proportionately less by the day. 

There once were vast regional disparities in the role of the private sector. Certain areas of China, for example the Northeast and West of the country, were until recently still dominated by SOEs. But, the changeover is occurring in these areas as well, and every year more private companies will reach the size threshold (revenues of over Rmb 5mn) where they will be captured by the statisticians. 

Equally, every year more of these private companies will reach the sort of scale where they become attractive to private equity investors. That happens when sales get above Rmb 100mn.  

Never in human history has so much private wealth been created so fast, by so many, as it has in China over the last 20 years. And yet, all this growth happened despite an almost complete lack of outside investment capital, from private equity and other institutional sources. This shows the resourcefulness of China’s entrepreneurs, to be able to build thriving businesses with little or no outside capital. Imagine how much faster this transformation would have happened if investment capital, and the expertise of PE firms, was more widely available. It is becoming more available by the day. 

China is primed, as it’s never been, for spectacular growth in PE investment over the coming 20 years.