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China and Ireland: Building a Powerful High-Tech Partnership. Enterprise Ireland Ambition Asia Conference, Dublin June 2019

June 25th, 2019 No comments

Enterprise Ireland, the Irish government export development agency, held a conference in Dublin earlier this month to promote more intensive collaboration between businesses in Ireland and China, particularly in high-technology. I was invited to give a keynote speech, titled “China and Ireland: Building a Powerful High-Tech Partnership”. You can watch the first six minutes by clicking here.

Many thanks to my friend and amateur cinematographer Elaine Coughlan, an Enterprise Ireland board member as well as managing partner at Altantic Bridge Capital. Elaine has an outstanding track record as a tech entrepreneur and investor, in Silicon Valley, Ireland and China. I was also honored to be on a panel Elaine moderated.

The Ambition Asia Pacific conference brought together about 300 business leaders from Ireland, China and elsewhere across Asia.

Ireland is the only country in the European Union that has a trade surplus with China. The country stands to benefit greatly from Brexit, as international tech companies move European operations out of the UK and to the only EU Eurozone country with English as its native language. Two other big plusses: Ireland is a business-friendly place with about the lowest corporate taxation rates around.

Enterprise Ireland has a great team in China, led by Mary Kinnane, Tom Cusack and Patrick Yau. I met executives from two of Ireland’s success stories in China, Decawave and Taoglas.

Small country. Big impact.

Adviser Banks Forced to Hold Stakes in IPOs on China Startup Board — Nikkei Asian Review

April 5th, 2019 No comments

HONG KONG — Investment banks bringing companies to list on China’s new board for technology startups are facing an unusual requirement: they will have to keep some of the shares for themselves.

The Shanghai Science and Technology Innovation Board marks a major experiment in the reform of China’s capital markets.

Chinese President Xi Jinping announced plans in November for a Nasdaq-style board for young tech startups, and it is expected to be operational later this year. It aims to attract young companies with fewer regulations and reporting requirements and, unlike China’s main markets, there are to be no limits on pricing and first-day trading movements.

Also unlike the country’s existing boards in Shanghai and Shenzhen, companies that list do not have to be profitable. In some cases, the tech board will not even require companies to have generated revenue.

The board signifies the realization of long-discussed plans to move from a system where Chinese regulators carefully review every applicant and maintain tight control over the flow of listings — leading to a backlog of hundreds of companies waiting years for an official nod — to a more market-driven system like that of major foreign exchanges.

The requirement that underwriters take a stake in initial public offerings, first flagged by officials last month, is an indicator of the authorities’ caution; members of the Chinese financial community say the stakeholding requirement is intended to insure underwriters bring only the companies in which they have confidence to market.

“Having lowered profitability requirements, it further makes sense to have sponsors with skin in the game,” said Brock Silvers, managing director of investment company Kaiyuan Capital in Shanghai.

Executives with two Chinese financial companies said the minimum stake will be “a low single-digit” percentage of the IPO. A lock up rule will block the underwriters from selling their shares within two years of the IPO. The rules have yet to be formally issued.

Victor Wang, executive director of financial sector research at China International Capital Corp., the country’s largest investment bank, said it is still unclear how the stakeholding requirement will be shared among different investment banks involved in an IPO. But the logic is, “if you don’t focus on quality and recommend some low-quality companies, you own money will be lost,” he said.

China Merchants Securities, which is sponsoring two companies preparing to list on the new board, declined to comment about the new rule. However, a local broker, who had not heard of it before, said he was not surprised at the requirement.

“China’s financial legal framework is not flawless and officials at the China Securities Regulatory Commission cannot completely trust sponsors’ due diligence work,” he said. “After all, there have been IPO frauds before. It is no surprise if regulators want some level of assurance by having brokers to share risks.”

Some market observers are wary of the consequences, however.

“The intention is a good one but once again investors are not being forced to make their own decisions and analysis,” said Fraser Howie, a veteran broker and co-author of three books on Chinese financial markets. “By forcing the (investment bank) to come in on every deal, it effectively tells investors, ‘Don’t worry. You don’t need to think for yourselves’.”

Howie also sees the rule as problematic for the banks. “The investment bank’s job is to bring a company fairly to market,” he said. “I think this (rule) conflicts with this. To me, they are creating a needless conflict of interest and additional risk for the bank.”

The burden of the requirement will favor larger investment banks, in the view of Yang Yingfei, a partner handling IPOs at Baker McKenzie FenXun Joint Operation Office in Beijing.

“Sponsors that are relatively stronger overall will become more competitive, whereas small and medium-sized securities firms may gradually lose the ability to sponsor tech board enterprises,” she said. “The effect of concentration in the sector will become conspicuous.”

Though the Innovation Board’s approach is unusual, other market regulators have also been wrestling with the question of how to ensure that underwriters take responsibility for companies they bring to market.

Last month, the Securities and Futures Commission of Hong Kong reprimanded and fined UBS, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley and the securities arm of Standard Chartered Bank over their handling of IPOs.

UBS received the heaviest penalty, a fine of 375 million Hong Kong dollars ($47.78 million) and a one-year suspension from sponsoring listings on the Hong Kong market. The SFC said the bank had failed to confirm the existence of key claimed assets and customers of China Forestry Holdings before bringing it to market in 2009 and found problems with its work on two other IPOs.

China Forestry raised $216 million in its IPO but its shares stopped trading in 2011 after its auditor reported the discovery of accounting irregularities.

Preparations for the Shanghai Innovation Board have moved unusually quickly since it was first mooted in November. The authorities are keen to have “unicorns” — unlisted startups valued at $1 billion or more — list on domestic markets rather than offshore. After several abortive efforts, they are hoping they have created an attractive alternative at last.

As of yet, the country’s most valuable companies, online services companies Alibaba Group Holding and Tencent Holdings, are listed in New York and Hong Kong, respectively.

“There are certainly signals that the tech board’s IPO procedures will be more market-driven, with a less onerous process of CSRC approval and monitoring,” said Peter Fuhrman, chairman of investment bank China First Capital in Shenzhen. “That should be a positive development.”

Nine companies are set to launch on the new board as soon as June, but none are unicorns; combined, they are expected to raise only about $1.6 billion. Financiers say bigger startups are waiting for the board to work through its initial launch pains before moving forward themselves.

One Hong Kong-based banker who works with mainland Chinese companies said “a lot” of his clients were waiting in the wings.

https://asia.nikkei.com/Business/Markets/Adviser-banks-forced-to-hold-stakes-in-IPOs-on-China-startup-board

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Chinese Education Startup Puts Western Teachers on Notice — Wall Street Journal

March 21st, 2019 No comments

A Chinese education company backed by U.S. investors including Kobe Bryant is cracking down on how its Western teachers cover politically fraught topics.

VIPKid, one of China’s most valuable online education startups, has put hundreds of its mostly American teachers on notice for using certain maps in their classes with Chinese students, and has severed two teachers’ contracts for discussing Taiwan and Tiananmen Square in ways at odds with Chinese government preferences, people familiar with the company say. Since last fall, teachers’ contracts state that discussing “politically contentious” topics could be cause for dismissal, according to one reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

The moves highlight the balance a Chinese company must strike in fulfilling global aspirations while toeing Beijing’s line. Five-year-old VIPKid is currently in talks to raise as much as $500 million in new funding from U.S. and other investors that could value the company at roughly $6 billion, people familiar with the fundraising said.

 “A company must keep good relations with the government and ideology,” said Peter Fuhrman, chief executive of investment firm China First Capital . “But that can cause friction when you’re also courting foreign investors, expanding business overseas and employing a large American workforce.”

Beijing-based VIPKid says it has more than 60,000 teachers in the U.S. and Canada who teach English to more than 500,000 children ages 4 through 15, who live mostly in China. Teachers work as independent contractors and can earn between $14 and $22 an hour. They must have a bachelor’s degree, at least one year of teaching experience and eligibility to work in the U.S. or Canada.

Curricula are provided, and teachers give English-language instruction, sometimes using geography or historical figures. VIPKid’s approach is consistent with maps and materials in the Chinese education curriculum, which calls Taiwan a part of China. Textbooks don’t mention the military’s suppression of the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy demonstrators in 1989, and discussion of it is forbidden.

A spokesman said VIPKid has “an elevated level of responsibility to protect the safety and emotional development of the young children on our platform.” The company expects teachers to understand cultural expectations, he said, adding it had to “make a difficult decision” to terminate the contracts of “an exceptionally small number of teachers” who “decided to ignore the needs of their students” and “the preference of their parents.”

Western companies including Gap Inc. and hotel giant Marriott International Inc. have been forced to apologize in the past for online communications, websites or merchandise that angered Beijing or Chinese consumers on issues including Taiwan and Tibet.

Chinese education technology attracted $5.3 billion in investment last year, double the amount a year earlier, according to Dow Jones VentureSource data. VIPKid’s investors include U.S. hedge-fund firm Coatue Management LLC, venture-capital firm Sequoia Capital, Chinese social giant Tencent Holdings Ltd. and a venture fund co-launched by retired NBA star Kobe Bryant.

The company’s actions have rankled some teachers. Typically, these instructors have displayed maps of the world, including China, that they found on their own. Starting last fall, hundreds began receiving emails or calls from VIPKid stating their maps weren’t aligned with Chinese education standards, people familiar with the matter said. Teachers who refuse to adhere to the map standards could have their contracts terminated, after conversations with VIPKid. Map-related dismissals haven’t happened, said a person familiar with the company.

Will Rodgers, a 26-year-old American teacher based in Thailand, said he discussed Tiananmen Square twice during VIPKid lessons about famous Chinese landmarks. First, he told a 12-year-old student “the Chinese government jailed and killed many people just for protesting.” He then showed a 15-year-old student photos and video footage of the protest, and his contract was terminated. Mr. Rodgers said he doesn’t agree with VIPKid’s stance, but doesn’t blame the company for ending his contract.

Another American teacher’s contract was terminated earlier this year after he told students that Taiwan was a separate country, according to people familiar with his case. A third teacher received a call from VIPKid after telling a student that Tibet, an autonomous region in China with a history of separatist activity, is a country, during a lesson on China’s neighbors, according to a person familiar with the matter. He was told on the call he should refer to Tibet as part of China.

People familiar with VIPKid say it monitors classes for missteps over political content. Another person familiar with the matter said the company uses artificial intelligence to determine material students find engaging and to protect them from inappropriate behavior.

Some teachers and VIPKid investors say that education from foreign teachers, even if it is screened, can benefit students because they get exposed to other cultures. Rob Hutter, a founder and managing partner of Learn Capital, an early investor in VIPKid, said the company is trying to take a common-sense approach by teaching uncontroversial content.

“No matter what nation you’re teaching in, there are going to be things that we need to be thoughtful about,” he said. “Even in American classrooms, there are things you cannot discuss.”

“No matter what nation you’re teaching in, there are going to be things that we need to be thoughtful about,” he said. “Even in American classrooms, there are things you cannot discuss.”

https://www.wsj.com/articles/chinese-education-startup-puts-western-teachers-on-notice-11553160602?mod=hp_lista_pos3

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Chinese Private Equity Funding Hit By Sharp Downturn — Financial Times

March 15th, 2019 No comments

Fundraising by renminbi-denominated private equity groups in China plummeted 86 per cent last year, squeezed by a tighter availability of credit and a slower initial public offering market.

The fall — revealed in a new report published on Friday — underlines how the Chinese private equity market has gone into reverse from the boom times of a few of years ago, when scores of new funds were launched and the country’s technology companies attracted sky-high valuations.

Hundreds of small, inexperienced Chinese private equity funds that rushed into investments in technology and new economy companies have begun to suffer from a sharp contraction in fundraising and tougher environment for exiting investments.

Private equity houses raised about $13bn in renminbi-denominated funds in 2018, down about 86 per cent from the $93bn raised the year before, according to data compiled by the consultants Bain & Co.

At the same time, small Chinese private equity groups struggled to cash in on their investments in 2018. Sales and initial public offerings worth less than $100m fell by about 64 per cent last year compared to a five-year average.

“The level of optimism and fervour for investing in the tech sector foreshadowed what we are seeing now,” said Usman Akhtar, a partner at Bain & Co, referring to how many small private equity houses are struggling to exit from investments at expected prices. “It’s the start of this and it may take a few years to pan out.”

The tightening of credit in China is a broad trend with an impact far beyond private equity. Banks, trusts and other sources of capital have been squeezed during China’s attempt to slow the growth of debt.

So-called shadow banking has been an important source of funds for small private equity groups. Without these channels to fresh cash, many of the imperilled funds are simply shutting down, raising doubts over whether investors will be paid.

China’s woes are mirrored across Asia where large private equity is sucking up most of the available capital while also finding means to exit their investments, Mr Akhtar said. Hong Kong-based PAG, which is run by former TPG and JPMorgan executive Shan Weijian, raised a $6bn fund in November, following a more than $9bn fund raised by Hillhouse, the Beijing and Hong Kong-based group.

Large exits of more than $500m clearly diverged from smaller deals in 2018 by rising just over a quarter on the year before.

Global demand for Chinese technology IPOs started 2018 with a bang but quickly showed signs of fizzling out, leading to a bottleneck of private equity seeking to exit their investments.

Over the past year several large, private equity-backed groups have been forced to scale back their IPOs or delay them indefinitely.

Tencent Music, which is partly owned by private equity, was last year targeting a $4bn float but ended up raising only $1.1bn after several delays.

“The reality is that all PE and VC investing in China has been an unhedged bet that the IPO process in China would liberalise and institutional investors in US and Hong Kong would show consistent, strong interest in Chinese IPOs. Neither is true,” said Peter Fuhrman, chairman of China First Capital, a Shenzhen-based investment bank.

https://www.ft.com/content/c0cf8c6e-4634-11e9-a965-23d669740bfb

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Are US and China Decoupling? Guest Lecture at University of Michigan Ross School of Business

February 20th, 2019 No comments

I was honored and delighted to teach a class via video lecture at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business for third year, this time on the potential decoupling between the US and China, the competitive realignments as well as investment opportunities.

The lecture’s title: “Chimerica No More: Are China and the US Decoupling? How Will This Alter World Economics and Commerce?”

Thanks to Professor David Brophy and his class on Global Private Equity for the invitation an incisive questions.

This is a video link to the presentation. (Click here.)

This is a video link to the full two hour class. (Click here.)

This is the PDF of the presentation — without the animations. (Click here.)

China Merchants Steams in to Compete with SoftBank’s Vision Fund — Financial Times

July 10th, 2018 No comments

 

China Merchants Group has been adopting new technology to resist foreign competitors for nearly 150 years. Founded in the 19th century, the company brought steam shipping to China so it could compete with western traders.

Now an arm of the Chinese state, CMG has been enlisted once again to buy up technology at a time when global private equity is vying for a share of China’s burgeoning tech market.

The country’s largest and oldest state-owned enterprise, CMG said this month it would partner with a London-based firm to raise a Rmb100bn ($15bn) fund mainly focused on investing in Chinese start-ups.

The China New Era Technology Fund will be launched into direct competition with the likes of SoftBank’s $100bn Vision Fund, as well as other huge investment vehicles raised by top global private equity houses such as Sequoia Capital, Carlyle, KKR and Hillhouse Capital Management.

“They have been very important to China in the past, especially in reform,” said Li Wei, a professor of economics at Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business in Beijing. “But you haven’t heard much about them in technology . . . It’s not too surprising to see them moving into this area, upgrading themselves once again.”

CMG is already one of the world’s largest investors. Since the start of 2015 its investment arm China Merchants Capital, which will oversee the New Era fund, has launched 31 funds aiming to raise a combined total of at least $52bn, according to publicly disclosed information.

But experts say little is known about the returns of those funds, most of which have been launched in co-operation with other local governments or state companies.

Before New Era, China Merchants Capital’s largest fund was a Rmb60bn vehicle launched with China Construction Bank in 2016. While almost no information is available on its investment activity, the fund said it would focus on high-tech, manufacturing and medical tech.

CMG’s experience investing directly into Chinese tech groups is limited, although it has taken part in the fundraising of several high-profile companies. In 2015 China Merchants Bank joined Apple, Tencent and Ant Financial to invest a combined $2.5bn into ride-hailing service Didi Chuxing, a company that now touts an $80bn valuation. It also invested in ecommerce logistics provider SF Express in 2013.

Success in Chinese tech investing is set to become increasingly difficult as more capital pours into the sector.

“Fifteen billion dollars can seem like a droplet in China,” said Peter Fuhrman, chairman and chief executive of tech-focused investment banking group China First Capital, based in Shenzhen. “We’re all bobbing in an ocean of risk capital. Still, one can’t but wonder, given the quite so-so cash returns from China high-tech investing, if all this money will find investable opportunities, and if there weren’t more productive uses for at least some of all this bounty.”

CMG, however, has always set itself apart from the rest of the country’s state groups. It is unlike any other company under the control of the Chinese government as it was founded before the Chinese Communist party and is based in Hong Kong, outside mainland China. Recommended Banks China Merchants Bank accused of US discrimination

The business was launched in 1872 as China Merchants Steam Navigation Company, a logistics and shipping joint-stock company formed between Chinese merchants based in China’s bustling port cities and the Qing dynasty court.

Mirroring its New Era fund today, it was designed to compete for technology with foreign rivals. At that time it was focused on obtaining steam transport technology to “counter the inroads of western steam shipping in Chinese coastal trade”, according to research by University of Queensland professor Chi-Kong Lai.

Nearly a century later, after falling under the control of the Chinese government, CMG became the single most important company in the early development of the city of Shenzhen, China’s so-called “window to the world” as it opened to the west.

Then led by former intelligence officer and guerrilla soldier Yuan Geng, the company used its base in Hong Kong to attract some of the first investors from the British-controlled city into the small Chinese town of Shenzhen, which has since grown into one of the world’s largest manufacturing hubs.

Its work in opening China to global investment gained CMG and Yuan, who led the company until the early 1990s, status as leading figures in the country’s reform era.

Today the company is a sprawling state conglomerate with $1.1tn in assets and holdings in real estate, ports, shipping, banking, asset management, toll roads and even healthcare. The company has 46 ports in 18 countries, according to the state-run People’s Daily, with deals last year in the sector including the controversial takeover of the Hambantota terminal in Sri Lanka and the $924m acquisition of Brazilian operator TCP Participações.

CMG did not respond to requests for comment. But one person who has advised it on overseas investments said the Chinese government was using it in the same way the company opened up Shenzhen to the outside world, helping “unlock foreign markets”.

https://www.ft.com/content/e7e81928-7f57-11e8-bc55-50daf11b720d

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China aims for greater tech independence as the rift with America and Europe widens. Will it work? — Washington Post

May 30th, 2018 No comments

 

 

Under the Radar — Week In China

May 18th, 2018 1 comment

 

When Google launched its email service in 2004, only people who had been invited to join the network could open Gmail accounts. The invite-only system made Gmail appear exclusive, so naturally more people wanted in. But it wasn’t a marketing ploy. Gmail had to limit membership because it didn’t have sufficient infrastructure to provide the service for everyone.

When OnePlus, a fast-growing Chinese smartphone brand, debuted in 2014, it adopted a similar tactic. Co-founder Carl Pei explained: “The invite system allowed us to scale our operations and manage our risks to help us grow more sustainably.” Essentially, it meant the four year-old company avoided overstocking. But, as with Gmail, by keeping the phone ‘exclusive’, it helped generate buzz.

This week OnePlus launched its seventh iteration, the OnePlus Six. Although it ditched the invite-only sales system in 2016, the company still keeps tight control over its distribution, forcing most purchases to be made online. But in India, where OnePlus made 35% of its total $1.4 billion in sales in 2017, the company has opened 10 physical stores to help sales and aftercare.

Vikas Agarwal, general manager at OnePlus India, claims OnePlus is now the “biggest Android premium smartphone brand” in the country. According to Counterpoint Research, the third and fourth most popular brands in India last year were Vivo and Oppo. Despite being competitors, the three brands are all linked to one man: Duan Yongping, the founder of BBK Electronics.

BBK (or Bu Bu Gao) was set up by Duan in 1995. It was the second household name Chinese brand Duan has created.

Born in 1961, Duan joined Zhongshan Yihua Group in Guangdong province in 1989 as the manager of a small factory. He used his position to establish a unit called Subor, which produced video game consoles in competition with Japan’s Nintendo.

The most memorable product made by Subor was an educational console, which featured a computer keyboard with ports for data cartridges and a couple of adjoining game controllers. The cartridges stored video recorded lessons to enable students to learn the English language by responding to prompts using the controllers.

The cheap console gave many young Chinese an introduction to computing and its popularity was reflected in Subor’s finances. When Duan joined Yihua it was Rmb2 million in debt, but by 1995 annual profit had exceeded Rmb1 billion ($157 million).

Despite the success Duan was only earning a meagre salary. He had lobbied Zhongshan Yihua to spin off Subor and give him a stake in the new enterprise, but he was rejected. It became a very public business dispute. The outcome: Duan left and founded BBK, taking a few promising team members with him.

Given his frustrations at Subor, Duan made sure he carved out a sizeable 70% stake in BBK for himself. The company began producing audio-visual products such as VCD and DVD players.

In 1999 and 2000, Duan became the highest bidder on state broadcaster CCTV’s annual auction of its prime-time advertising slots, splashing out Rmb300 million. The huge gamble paid off. BBK became a household name and subsequently the leading maker of VCD players.

Duan was quick to see the potential of mobile phones and later the mobile internet. BBK’s Oppo and Vivo were initially derided as cheap imitations of Apple’s iPhone. But through smart marketing the pair became amongst the country’s best-selling smartphones (see WiC358 for our analysis of Oppo’s rise). In 2016, sales of the two brands actually bumped the iPhone out of China’s top three positions.

More than a decade earlier Duan had spoken to Harvard China Review about his business philosophy: “I am never afraid to follow others. Actually my business has never been an initiator of an industry. Instead, we analyse vulnerabilities of the leading companies in a certain industry and then try to establish our own stronghold.”

This ethos likely contributed to the establishment of OnePlus, which was co-founded in 2013 by Oppo’s former vice president Pete Lau. The company drew comparisons to Xiaomi at its launch, because both produced low-price premium smartphones with sales made exclusively online.

Lau was an early BBK employee, joining in 1998. According to Medium, Lau paid a visit to his mentor and former boss Duan to seek advice before initiating OnePlus. Duan’s pedagogical stature is one of the many reasons he’s sometimes dubbed “the Chinese Warren Buffet” and why Lau looked for his backing.

Peter Fuhrman, founder and chairman of Shenzhen-based advisory firm China First Capital, has followed Duan’s business career and admires what he has achieved. As he points out, “No one has succeeded for so long, or so well, in such a brutally tough global industry as Mr Duan. He’s earned a spot among the business immortals of the past century. Only he and Samsung managed the transition that left Blackberry, Nokia, Sony Mobile, Motorola as roadkill. He rose to the top originally by making simple, cheap feature phones, then more or less chucked that whole business away to create and back three new companies for the smartphone industry, Oppo, Vivo and OnePlus. All are doing outstandingly well. Their success is built on another aspect at which Duan excels as few, if any ever have – creating a hugely-efficient, high-quality manufacturing base in Dongguan turning out phones for all three, backed by what may well be the world’s most efficient global electronics supply chain.”

Duan is evidently happy to be compared with Buffett. In 2006, he paid $620,100 to have lunch with the Sage of Omaha. Duan told media after the charity luncheon, “I had already learned a lot from Buffett, so I was hoping for a chance to thank him.”

Having emigrated to the US in 2001, Duan has been taking a more active interest in managing his own money, rapidly growing his equity portfolio.

An initial investment was a $2 million cash injection into NetEase. The firm had almost gone bust following the dotcom crash and its share price had plummeted to just $0.80. According to China Investor, Duan determined that the company still had potential, so he took the plunge. Within two years he’d made a return of 100-times on his investment.

Duan also made a large investment in GE after its shares slumped following the 2008 financial crisis, buying shares at $6 each and quickly doubling his money.

His steely nerves ensured he held onto his stake in Kweichow Moutai when the baijiu maker’s stock price halved in 2014. Duan entered at Rmb180 in 2012; today Moutai trades at over Rmb700.

“The money I’ve earned on the back of investments is so much more than what I earned from 10 years of doing business,” he surmised. According to the latest Hurun report, Duan is now worth $1.3 billion – but there are some in China who think his wealth could be many multiples of that Hurun estimate, and he might even be one of China’s richest men.

It’s hard to know: many of his investments aren’t public. But in Chinese business circles few would disagree that he is shrewd at finding and backing talent.

For instance, also present at the 2006 Buffett lunch was Colin Huang Zheng, who would later found Pinduoduo, one of China’s 164 unlisted unicorns. The e-commerce platform has been described as the fastest growing app in the history of the Chinese internet (see WiC404), and Huang has long been viewed as a key Duan protégé.

“He is above all a great manager and motivator of people, of putting strong people in leadership positions and then letting them get on with their business, with minimal intervention from him at the top,” comments China First Capital’s Fuhrman. “From hands-on executive to hands-off semi-retired chairman, Duan has excelled across his career in very different roles.”

Despite his successes in the business and investment fields, it seems Duan would rather be remembered for his altruism, claiming “Charity is my business, investment is my hobby.” In 2005, Duan and his wife established the Enlight Foundation, through which they’ve provided scholarships to their respective alma maters. In 2006, Duan and NetEase founder Ding Lei made a $40 million donation to Zhejiang University.

But surprisingly the two people who likely won’t be receiving handouts from the magnate are his children. According to Phoenix News, Duan has said: “So much of my happiness in life has come from the process of earning my wealth. I don’t want to deny my children that same happiness.”

As published by Week in China

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China: Qualcomm’s $44 Billion Purchase of NXP Has ‘Hard to Resolve’ Issues — Wall Street Journal

April 19th, 2018 No comments

BEIJING—China’s antitrust regulator gave an initial pessimistic review of Qualcomm Inc.’s $44 billion purchase of NXP Semiconductors NXPI -0.15% NV, raising questions about a critical deal for the American company and whether trade friction with the U.S. is playing a role.

A spokesman for China’s Commerce Ministry said Thursday that a preliminary review turned up “related issues that are hard to resolve, making it difficult to eliminate the negative impact.”

Speaking at a regular media briefing, the spokesman, Gao Feng, didn’t elaborate on the specific findings other than to say the agency looked at the deal’s impact on competitors and the market and examined Qualcomm’s QCOM -0.22% proposed remedies. He didn’t close the door on an eventual approval, promising a fair review of Qualcomm’s application.

“Made in China 2025” is Beijing’s industrial plan to dominate high-tech industries including robotics, aerospace and computer chips. The Trump administration argues China is using the plan to give its tech companies unfair advantage over foreign rivals. But what is it exactly?

Qualcomm didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Mr. Gao’s remarks are the latest move in Qualcomm’s long discussions with Beijing. Still, the bleak initial assessment comes amid a tumultuous back-and-forth between Washington and Beijing that is making the technology sector a flashpoint in the countries’ brewing conflict on trade.

Earlier this week, the U.S. banned a large Chinese telecommunications equipment maker, ZTE Corp. , from purchasing American technology for seven years, saying the company breached an agreement reached last year to settle allegations it violated sanctions by selling gear to North Korea and Iran. The punishment is seen as potentially crippling for ZTE. It is also likely to hurt its American component suppliers, including Qualcomm, which provides chips for smartphones.

“China wants very much to flex its muscles. It can certainly inflict pain on one large U.S. company, Qualcomm,” said Peter Fuhrman, chairman and chief executive officer of investment and advisory firm China First Capital. He said current tensions make this “the fraughtest moment in the 30-year history of U.S.-China technology trade and mutual reliance.”

Ultimately, Mr. Fuhrman said, China’s huge mobile-phone and auto industries in particular depend on Qualcomm and NXP, so an agreement with the regulators is likely to be struck.

Qualcomm has been waiting for China to approve the purchase of the Dutch company NXP, having secured permission from the eight other major antitrust regulators around the globe. The deal is seen as crucial to San Diego-based Qualcomm, which needs to look for growth beyond its dominance in the smartphone sector; NXP specializes in making chips for automobiles, an area that is growing rapidly.

On Wednesday Qualcomm said it began laying off an unspecified number of employees in a move to fulfill a promise to boost profit by shedding $1 billion in expenses. The layoffs are part of a cost-reduction program unveiled in January intended to convince investors of the company’s prospects as it fended off an acquisition from Broadcom Ltd. , which was then based in Singapore, that was later quashed by President Donald Trump.

In recent weeks as Washington and Beijing have traded tit-for-tat threats over trade, the Commerce Ministry has slowed its review of the deal, according to people familiar with the matter.

China wants very much to flex its muscles. It can certainly inflict pain on one large U.S. company, Qualcomm.

—Peter Fuhrman, chairman and chief executive officer of China First Capital

At a 45-minute briefing to a crowded room of reporters, Mr. Gao touched upon ZTE and the trade battle as well as Qualcomm’s application. By going after ZTE, he said, “The action targets China. However, it will ultimately undermine the U.S. itself.” He said the U.S. is risking “tens of thousands of jobs and shaking international confidence in the U.S. business environment.”

Mr. Gao also urged the U.S. government not to misjudge China’s resolve in defending its interests on trade.

The Trump administration has criticized Beijing over what the U.S. says are unfair practices leading to a trade imbalance that last year reached $375 billion in China’s favor. The Trump administration wants the gap reduced by $100 billion and this year placed tariffs on a range of Chinese goods and threatened to impose them on $150 billion more.

Beijing has vowed to respond in kind. This week, it placed temporary penalties on imports of U.S. sorghum, as part of a strategy to target the Farm Belt and other parts of President Trump’s political base. Soybeans, cotton and liquefied propane are also on a target list for tariffs.

Washington and Beijing have tussled over technology in recent years, with both governments alleging that each other’s products might enable espionage and damage national security. Efforts to harden those perceived vulnerabilities have also fed accusations of protectionism, and as overall tensions on trade have risen, technology has taken center stage.

Huawei Technologies Co., a Chinese national champion and the world’s largest provider of telecom equipment, acknowledged this week that after years of difficulties in the U.S., it is refocusing energies on most of the rest of the world.

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission approved a measure this week that would bar wireless carriers in the U.S. from using government subsidies to buy telecom gear from Chinese manufacturers. The U.S. trade representative’s office also said earlier this week that it is considering retaliation for China’s restrictions on U.S. providers of cloud computing and other services.

Qualcomm has been caught in the middle. The company relies on China for a major part of its business. As the Commerce Ministry’s review of its proposed purchase of NXP, Qualcomm resubmitted its application on Monday ahead of a Tuesday deadline. The move effectively resets a timetable for a decision and gives Chinese regulators an additional 180 days to review the deal, people familiar with the procedure said.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/qualcomms-44-billion-purchase-of-nxp-has-hard-to-resolve-issues-china-1524108990

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China’s Technology Future and What It Means for Silicon Valley — Bay Area Council Research Report

November 29th, 2017 No comments

 

The Bay Area Council Economic Institute, the leading think tank and public policy organization in the Silicon Valley, has just published a comprehensive and timely research report on Chinese innovation, titled “China’s Technology Future and What It Means for Silicon Valley“. The author is Sean Randolph, Senior Director at the Institute.

You can download a copy of the complete report by clicking here.

Sean was kind enough to seek out my views on this topic and we shared a lively dialogue, both in person here in China, and by email once he returned to San Francisco.

The report does an excellent job contrasting China’s overarching future goals in technology and innovation with the current state of affairs. It takes a balanced view: “While recognizing China’s advances, it would be a mistake to think of China as a remorseless juggernaut sweeping everything in its path. Having a plan doesn’t guarantee success, and not everything works.”

The report looks deeply both at some of China’s leading technology companies — including the “BAT” along with Huawei and car-maker Geely — and more broadly at how Chinese companies, both state-owned and private, regions and universities all align themselves with broader national goals to upgrade the level of China’s indigenous innovation.

What does all this mean for Silicon Valley, the world’s most important and successful breeding ground for high-value innovation? It’s here, in offering answers and perspective, that the report achieves its greatest value.

Here are some particularly insightful passages:

“China’s relationship with the Silicon Valley/San Francisco Bay Area is unique, in part due to the deep historical and demographic ties between the Bay Area and China, but also because the region’s technology sector—the world’s largest—most highly concentrates the assets of technology, investment and expertise that relate to China’s goals to accelerate its own technological development.

Bay Area technology companies, such as Intel, Apple, and Cisco, and venture firms, such as Sequoia Capital, DFJ (Draper Fisher Jurvetson), and Kleiner Perkins, have been active investors in China for decades. Now, reversing the historic trend in which virtually all investment flowed from the Bay Area to China, Chinese companies have started sending investment capital and other resources to the Bay Area through mergers and acquisitions, equity investments, and the establishment of research and innovation centers and accelerator programs.”

The attraction of China’s market can be compelling, but [Silicon Valley] companies also must consider whether their core technology can be protected, and whether their position in the Chinese market can be sustained if that technology is compromised by competitors.While few US companies are leaving China, government policies and weak IP protection have caused many to keep their best technology at home and others to stay away.”

The report appears at an especially critical time in the development of US-China technology policy and investment. Congress is moving to tighten the CFIUS controls on Chinese technology investment in the US. China, meanwhile, is pushing ahead with new and more restrictive policies at home, leading to companies like Amazon selling off assets in China.

Let’s hope the tide reverses. A more open and reciprocal trade and investment relationship between China and the US would benefit both, benefit the world.

 

 

 

In Today’s China, Paradoxes Still Abound. But So Do Opportunities — Site Selection Magazine

November 21st, 2017 No comments

 

In September, China First Capital Chairman and CEO Peter Fuhrman, familiar to attendees at the World Forum for FDI in Shanghai last year, delivered a talk from China to Harvard Business School alumni. Here, with Mr. Fuhrman’s permission, we present excerpts from his remarks.

————–

GDP growth has never and will never absolutely correlate with investment returns.

Any questions? No? Great. Thanks for your time.

Of course I’m joking. But that key reality of successful investing is all too often overlooked, and China has provided all of us over these last 30-some-odd years with a vivid reminder that IRR and GDP are by no means the same animal.

China is, was and will likely long remain a phenomenal economy. The growth that’s taken place here since I first set foot in China in 1981 has been something almost beyond human reckoning. Since I first came to China as a postgrad in 1981, per-capita GDP (PPP) has risen 43X, from $352 to $15,417. China achieved so much more than anyone dare hope, a billion people lifted out of poverty, freed to pursue their dreams, to make and spend a bundle.

China this year will add about $1 trillion of new GDP. Just to put that in context, $1 trillion is not a lot less than the entire GDP of Russia. So who is making all this newly minted money? And how can any of us hope to get a piece of it? Another question: Why, if China is such a great economy, has it proved such a disaster area for so many of the world’s largest, most sophisticated global institutional investors, private equity firms and Fortune 500s?

Turning Inward

Let’s start with the fact that China is a part of the World Trade Organization, but not entirely of it — not fully subscribed in any way to the notion that reciprocity, openness, free trade, level playing fields and equal treatment are positive ends unto themselves. As China has gotten richer it has seen even less and less need to attract foreign capital and foreign investment. That’s a tendency we see in other countries, including obviously some of the rhetoric we now hear in the U.S. — that more of the gains of the national economy should belong to its citizens. But China’s way is different.

The renminbi is a closed non-tradable currency, so getting US dollars into and out of China has always been difficult. China now has the world’s second-largest stock and bond markets, but those markets are largely closed to any investors other than Chinese domestic ones. But China also continues to provide companies going public with by far the highest multiples anywhere in the world.

When I first came to China 36 years ago China was a 100-percent state-owned economy. Twenty years ago the first rules were put in place to allow a private sector to function. Today, according to anyone’s best estimate, it’s about 70 percent private and 30 percent state, and most of the value creation is being provided by that private-sector economy. So in theory there should be very interesting M&A opportunities. But it’s been exceedingly difficult to get successful transactions done. One of the core reasons is that by and large all private-sector companies in China, large and small, are family-owned.

The other thing important to consider is a Mandarin term: guifan. It’s the Chinese way of explaining the extent to which a company in China is abiding by all the rules of the road — the taxes you should pay, the environmental and labor laws you should follow. It’s not at all uncommon that successful private-sector companies in China are successful by virtue of having negotiated to pay little or no corporate tax on profits.

For foreign-owned companies in China it’s an entirely different story. They are by and large 100-percent compliant with the written rules. This has an enormous impact on the operating performance of any company, so you can imagine how potentially skewed the competitive environment becomes. And keep in mind that corporate taxation in China in the aggregate is, if not the highest in the developed world, then among the highest, and the environmental and labor laws are every bit as difficult, rigorous, tough and expensive to implement as they are in the U.S.

China is a country where local government officials are scored on the measurable success of their time in office, and success is overwhelmingly attributed to GDP growth. So it should be no surprise if what they’re trying to do is optimize GDP growth, the percentage of a company’s income that goes back to the government in taxation can have an adverse effect on that. Instead the government will continue to urge its local companies to take the money and, rather than pay tax, continue to invest, expand and therefore build local GDP.

The Hum of Consumerism

The reasons to stay engaged and find a viable investment angle include GDP growth. China’s GDP is likely to continue to grow by at least 6 percent a year. Second, across my 25 years of involvement in China, every one of the predictions of imminent collapse — financial catastrophe, local government debt, bad bank loans, real estate bubbles — have proved to be false. It appears China has some resiliency, and it’s certainly the case that the government has the tools and financial resources to ride out most challenges.

Third has been how effortlessly it’s made the transition that still bedevils lots of Europe, from a smokestack economy to a consumer-spending paradise. At this moment every major consumer market in China is booming both online and offline. Alibaba, Baidu and Tencent are now operating as three of the most profitable companies in the world.

How does China have a robust, booming consumer economy and an enormous appetite for luxury brands, yet on average salary levels that are still one-fifth or one-sixth the levels in the US? The simple answer is that almost all the Chinese now living in urban China — about half the population, compared to about 15 percent when I first got here — owns at least a single apartment if not multiple, which is more and more common. The single best-performing asset in history has probably been Chinese urban real estate over the last 30 years. It’s fair to say the average appreciation over the last 10 years is at least 300 percent.

Though China has a population whose incomes on paper look like those of people flipping burgers at McDonald’s, they seem to have the spending power and love of luxury goods like the people summering in East Hampton. Even Apple itself has no idea how big its market is here in China. It’s likely that at least 100 million iPhone 8s will be sold to Chinese over the next year. The retail price here in China is at least 30 to 40 percent higher than in the US, with most phones bought for cash, without a carrier subsidy.

‘You’ll Be Older Too’

So where is it possible to make money in China? One message above all: Active investing beats passive investing every time. What you need to do is either be the owner-operator or be a close strategic partner with one, and stay actively engaged.

There are four major areas of opportunity: Tech, health-care services, leisure and education (see graphic below). The potential for building out a chronic care business in China is enormous. Looking ahead 25 to 30 years, sadly China will likely suffer a demographic disaster. This country will become a very old society very quickly. That’s the inevitable product of 30 years of a one-child-per-family policy. By 2040 or 2050, 25 percent of China will be over the age of 65.

The overall rate of GDP growth is unlikely to ever rival that of a few years ago at 10 to 12 percent a year, but overall what we have is higher-quality growth. People in China are living well. Things should continue to motor along very smoothly at least for one more generation — a generation whose members are better educated, more skilled, ambitious and globalized than their parents.

There’s no denying the reality of what a better, happier, freer, richer country China has become since I first set foot here. I marvel every day at the China that I now live in, even while I occasionally curse some of the unwanted byproducts like heavy pollution in most parts of the country, overcrowding at tourist attractions, bad traffic, and a pushy culture that’s lost touch with some of China’s ancient glories.

China will continue to amaze, inspire and stupefy the world. The Chinese have done very well and will do better. At the same time, those of us investing in China may do a little better in years to come than we have up to now. More of the newly minted trillions in China just may end up sticking to our palms.

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China’s Soccer Push Puts a Storied Team Under Murky Ownership — The New York Times

November 17th, 2017 No comments

 

 

 

 

 

 

By SUI-LEE WEE, RYAN McMORROW and TARIQ PANJA

NOV. 16,    2017

Li Yonghong in April with David Han Li, left, of Rossoneri Sport Investment, part of A.C. Milan’s new ownership group, and Marco Fassone, the club’s chief executive.

BEIJING — When the Chinese businessman Li Yonghong bought A.C. Milan, the world-famous Italian soccer club, virtually nobody in Italy had heard of him.

Virtually nobody in China had, either.

Mr. Li had never been named to one of China’s lists of the country’s richest people. The mining empire he described to Italian soccer officials was hardly known even in mining circles.

Nevertheless, Mr. Li seemed to have what mattered most: money. He bought the club in April for $860 million from Silvio Berlusconi, the former Italian prime minister, to clinch China’s biggest-ever soccer deal.

Today, Mr. Li’s acquisition of A.C. Milan appears to be emblematic of a string of troubled Chinese deals.

The soccer club, bleeding money after a spending spree on star players, is seeking new investors or a refinancing of the high-interest loan that Mr. Li took to buy the club. That loan comes due in a year.

Chinese corporate records show that — on paper, at least — someone else owns his mining empire. That company’s offices were empty on a recent visit, and a sign on the door from the landlord cited unpaid rent. A spokesman for A.C. Milan said Mr. Li’s control of the mining business had been verified by lawyers and banks involved in the transaction.

Chinese records also show a series of business disputes and run-ins between Mr. Li and Chinese regulators.

China’s emergence as a world economic power came with a ready checkbook for major brand names. Chinese owners now control the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York, AMC theaters, the Hollywood production company Legendary Entertainment and A.C. Milan.

Then Chinese officials began to worry that the spending was simply part of an exodus of money from China so vast that it once threatened to destabilize the country’s economy, the world’s second largest. This summer, the government ordered its banks to scrutinize lending to some of the country’s biggest deal makers.

Outside China, some of the deals led regulators to ask questions about the tycoons behind them. Some wealthy people in China list their holdings under the names of relatives or associates to avoid scrutiny, a practice that has attracted criticism inside and outside the country.

In the case of Mr. Li, the mines that he told A.C. Milan he controlled have been owned by four different people since last year, according to Chinese corporate records. The business changed hands twice for no money, the documents show.

Mr. Li declined an interview request through A.C. Milan. The club spokesman defended Mr. Li on his business disputes, saying that sometimes he was a victim and that sometimes he was not aware of complicated rules. The spokesman also said the club was evaluating several refinancing proposals and was confident it could cover the loan.

Chinese spending on soccer totaled $1.8 billion over the past five years, according to Dealogic, a data provider, but Chinese officials are putting a stop to the spree amid concerns about the flight of money abroad.

“There’s a lot of ways to invest in football and the sports industry for much less money,” said Mark Dreyer, who tracks Chinese soccer investments on his website, China Sports Insider. “People were basically using the government’s previous push for sports as a way to diversify into different industries and get their money out of China.”

Mr. Li had plenty of reasons to buy A.C. Milan. President Xi Jinping had professed his love for soccer and wanted China to be a superpower in the sport by 2050. The Chinese government had laid out a plan for increasing sports investment.

An acquisition of A.C. Milan would be a marquee deal. A decade ago, the club was home to some of soccer’s biggest talents, including Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite, who is known as Kaká, and Andrea Pirlo. It was a seven-time European champion.

But it has not won an Italian championship for six years or a European title for 10. Fans welcomed Mr. Li’s arrival as a potential catalyst. This summer, A.C. Milan began to spend on new players in a way that seemed to signal a desire to compete again.

Still, Mr. Li and Mr. Berlusconi struck the deal at a difficult time. Beijing, spooked by the unprecedented capital outflows and a weakening currency, had imposed restrictions on overseas investment at the end of last year.

Mr. Li set up companies in the British Virgin Islands and Luxembourg that would put the club’s legal ownership outside China, according to Marco Fassone, A.C. Milan’s chief executive officer. Mr. Li also borrowed about $354 million from the hedge fund firm Elliott Management, a loan he must pay back by October 2018. A spokeswoman for Elliott declined to comment.

A.C. Milan remains debt laden and unprofitable, and could have trouble repaying what it owes on its own. It spent about $274 million to sign 11 players this summer, according to the club spokesman, making it among the biggest spenders in European soccer.

In August, A.C. Milan had to wait for the transfer of two players it had signed from other teams because it had not deposited the required bank bonds. The club blamed a timing issue for the delay, and the transfers were eventually completed. The team is in seventh place but, with more than two-thirds of the season left to play, must finish among the top four to earn a spot in European soccer’s elite Champions League next season. The team could lose valuable television revenue if it fails to reach that level.

It is unclear how much Mr. Li’s wealth might help the club address its troubles.

He was initially unknown to the deal makers trying to sell the club, the people involved in the transaction said. He was originally part of a group that included Sonny Wu, a well-known investor who is chairman of the private equity firm GSR Capital, these people said. But Mr. Wu pulled out of the deal.

In an email, Mr. Wu said he had not talked to bankers about Mr. Li or his consortium. Rothschild & Company, the investment bank that advised Mr. Li, declined to comment.

Mr. Li told A.C. Milan that his holdings included phosphate mining operations in the city of Fuquan in Guizhou Province.

But Chinese corporate filings show that the mines are owned by another party: Guangdong Lion Asset Management, an investment company. And Guangdong Lion has had a complicated ownership record over the past two years, involving a number of people with similar family names. (One court proceeding suggests Mr. Li has a relationship with Guangdong Lion, although it is not clear what kind.)

Originally, Guangdong Lion was ultimately owned by two investors, Li Shangbing and Li Shangsong, according to filings. Like Li Yonghong, the two men come from the same area of Maoming, a city on China’s southern coast, according to the documents. But in a phone interview, Li Shangbing said he did not know Li Yonghong.

Li Shangsong, who declined to comment, sold his interest in Guangdong Lion in 2015 to a person named Li Qianru, according to the documents. The documents did not include personal information about Li Qianru, who could not be reached for comment.

In May 2016, according to the filings, Li Shangbing and Li Qianru, sold Guangdong Lion to yet another Li: Li Yalu. The sale price: $0. The filings do not provide personal information about Li Yalu.

Three weeks later, Li Yalu sold a half stake in Guangdong Lion to a similarly obscure investor, Zhang Zhiling. The price: $0. Neither could be reached for comment.

Li is a common surname in China, and the relationships among the various Lis are unclear. The A.C. Milan spokesman declined to comment.

Li Yonghong, the A.C. Milan owner, and Li Shangbing have two things in common.

The first is a relationship with Guangdong Lion. A Chinese court cited Li Yonghong and Guangdong Lion in April for failing to resolve a loan dispute with another Chinese company, saying both parties had disappeared. The court did not specify the relationship. The A.C. Milan spokesman said that Li Yonghong had merely guaranteed the loan and that “he is a victim in this case.”

The second is an interest in investing in European sports.

In May 2016, a day before Li Shangbing sold Guangdong Lion for no money, he started a company called Sino-Europe Sports Asset Management Changxing Company, according to China’s corporate database.

Two days after he registered the Sino-Europe firm, another person registered a new company with a strikingly similar name: Sino-Europe Sports Investment Management Changxing Company. The two companies’ headquarters were in the same building in the city of Huzhou.

Sino-Europe Sports Investment owns a stake in A.C. Milan as a result of its role as a shareholder in Rossoneri Sport Investment, a Chinese company that is part of the group led by Li Yonghong that owns the soccer club.

In the phone interview, Li Shangbing denied setting up either Sino-Europe company and said he did not own any part of A.C. Milan. He declined to answer further questions. A.C. Milan declined to comment on Li Shangbing. The listed owner of the Sino-Europe Sports Investment Management Changxing Company, Chen Huashan, could not be reached for comment.

Guangdong Lion’s listed headquarters are in a fancy skyscraper in Guangzhou. In August, the offices were closed, with an eviction notice on the door. Inside, desks and chairs were in disarray, computers were missing hard drives, and maggots festered in a trash can.

The phone number listed for Guangdong Lion connects to a woman who said she helped companies register with Chinese regulators.

Li Yonghong has an extensive business history, but Chinese records show it includes disputes with regulators and others.

In 2013, China’s securities watchdog fined Mr. Li $90,250 for failing to report the sale of $51.1 million in shares of a real estate company. A.C. Milan said Mr. Li had simply been unfamiliar with listing rules.

In 2011, that same real estate company said in a stock filing that Mr. Li was the chairman of Grand Dragon International Holding Company, a Chinese aviation company. Grand Dragon said in June that he had no present or past association with the company. The A.C. Milan spokesman said he had no knowledge of this.

In 2004, Mr. Li’s family business, the Guangdong Green River Company, teamed up with two other companies to bilk more than 5,000 investors out of as much as $68.3 million, according to The Shanghai Securities News, the official newspaper of China’s financial watchdogs. They had sold contracts for lychee and longan orchards and promised investors hefty returns, according to the report.

Mr. Li’s father and brother were sentenced to jail. Mr. Li was investigated but not accused of wrongdoing, the report said.

A.C. Milan said the episode had nothing to do with Mr. Li, adding that “he was not aware of the situation until the investigation.”

Amid Chinese concerns about deals abroad, China’s purchases of soccer teams with prestige names is likely to slow considerably for some time to come.

“If outbound investment should have the purpose of ‘strengthening the nation,’ even within the broadest of definitions,” Peter Fuhrman, chairman of the investment bank China First Capital, said in an email, “buying a soccer team in the U.K. or Italy would hardly seem to qualify.”

 

As published in The New York Times

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Amazon Sells Hardware to Cloud Partner in China — The Wall Street Journal

November 15th, 2017 No comments

Amazon Web Services is selling computing equipment used for its cloud services in China for as much as $300.8 million.
Amazon Web Services is selling computing equipment used for its cloud services in China for as much as $300.8 million.

Amazon.com Inc. AMZN 0.68% on Tuesday said it has sold computing equipment used for its cloud services in China to its local partner, Beijing Sinnet Technology Co., in a move analysts said underscores the increasingly chilly atmosphere for foreign companies in the country.

Amazon Web Services said it took the step to meet new Chinese regulations.

”Chinese law forbids non-Chinese companies from owning or operating certain technology for the provision of cloud services,” AWS said. “As a result, in order to comply with Chinese law, AWS sold certain physical infrastructure assets to Sinnet, its longtime Chinese partner.”

The company said it remains committed to China and that customers would continue to receive AWS cloud services. It also said the deal didn’t involve any transfer of intellectual property.

Peter Fuhrman, chairman of technology investment bank China First Capital, said Amazon’s decision illustrates China’s tightened grip on companies providing internet services.

”The key policy brickwork is now done,” Mr. Fuhrman said. “The Chinese internet, in its broad entirety, will become even more comprehensively managed by the Chinese state.”

Mr. Fuhrman added that such protectionist moves will ultimately limit China’s access to the latest technology and could hurt its competitiveness over the long term.

Jim McGregor, chairman of the Greater China region for public-affairs consultancy APCO Worldwide, said the move should be viewed in light of China’s Made in China 2025 plan to promote domestic enterprises and technologies. ”China has a different plan and it has the power,” he said.

U.S. tech companies in China are dealing with a different world “and it would be corporate suicide not to acknowledge it,” he added.

Beijing Sinnet, in a regulatory filing late Monday, said it was paying up to 2 billion yuan ($300.8 million) for the assets to “comply with our country’s laws and rules and further improve the security and the service quality of the AWS cloud-computing service operated by the company.”

Early this year, China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology informed foreign companies with cloud ventures that new operating licenses would be applied by year-end. Amazon’s deal with Sinnet could clear the final obstacles for AWS to get such licenses, analysts from Citic Securities said in a note Tuesday.

Late last year, China’s MIIT also issued draft measures calling for tighter technical cooperation between foreign cloud operators and their local partners. The proposed rule change triggered complaints from more than 50 U.S. lawmakers, who in March protested in a letter to China’s ambassador to the U.S., Cui Tiankai, that the change would force U.S. companies to essentially transfer ownership and operations of their cloud systems to Chinese partners.

Officials with the MIIT had no immediate comment.

Amazon and other U.S. companies, including Apple Inc., have faced increased pressure in the country in recent months in the face of the Chinese government’s desire to control cyberspace.

In July, Apple said it would begin storing cloud data for its Chinese customers on a server run by a government-owned company, to comply with Chinese law. The data include photos, documents, messages and videos uploaded by mainland China users of Apple’s iCloud service.

Since a new cybersecurity law came into effect in June, U.S. tech companies have been constrained in their efforts to operate as they normally would globally, and this has led to inefficiency and a higher risk of cyberthreats, said the U.S.-China Business Council in a statement Tuesday.

In August, AWS was caught up in a Chinese government clampdown on tools that allow internet users to circumvent the country’s vast system of internet filters. In that instance, AWS customers were sent emails by Beijing Sinnet asking them to delete tools enabling them to bypass the filters. Some of the tools that clients use include virtual private networks, or VPNs.

Cloud platforms provide their users with data storage, computing and networking resources over the internet, reducing the need for on-site servers. China’s $2 billion public cloud market is set to grow to a $16 billion by 2020, according to estimates by Morgan Stanley analysts. A government policy push for enterprises to migrate to the cloud, better vendor offerings and falling costs will boost demand for such services, Morgan Stanley said.

In China, AWS faces strong local competition in the form of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. and China Telecom Corp. Alibaba’s cloud unit held 40% of the country’s cloud infrastructure-as-a-service market, according to International Data Corp. research. Microsoft Corp. , the largest foreign provider in China, had 5%, while AWS has 3.8%.

Still, China’s market is in its nascent stage, and it is too early to crown industry champions, said Kevin Ji, a research director at Gartner, an industry research firm. With their strong product offerings, AWS and Microsoft are likely to prove formidable competitors to Alibaba in the longer run, he said.

 

As published in The Wall Street Journal.

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China Investing, The Pain and the Perks — Harvard Business School Global Alumni Lecture

October 10th, 2017 No comments

 

It was a delight and a privilege to give a talk on China investing to Harvard Business School’s global alumni organization. If you’d like to see the slide deck, please click here. The audio version of the lecture, done by worldwide webcast,  is also up on YouTube.

The topic was a big one — why have China investment returns so often failed to keep pace with the phenomenal growth in the country’s economy, and can investors do anything to improve the odds of success? Given an hour to discuss, I could only really scratch the surface.

A key takeaway: the past needn’t be prologue. Investing in China may prove less vexatious in the future. In part, that’s because of the growth of a mass affluent consumer market in China, a shift that plays to the strengths of many US, European and East Asian companies and institutional investors. Second, of course, everyone now can learn from past mistakes and misperceptions.

As I said in closing, “China will continue to amaze, inspire and stupefy the world. Chinese have done very well and will do better. At same time, those of us investing in China may do a little better here in years to come than we have up to now. More of the newly minted trillions in China just may end up sticking to our palms.”

 

 

 

Alzheimer’s: China’s Looming Health Challenges — The Diplomat

October 2nd, 2017 No comments

 

 

 

 

Trans-Pacific View author Mercy Kuo regularly engages subject-matter experts, policy practitioners and strategic thinkers across the globe for their diverse insights into the U.S. Asia policy. This conversation with Peter Fuhrman Chairman, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of China First Capital, Ltd.is the 109th in “The Trans-Pacific View Insight Series.”  

With 9.5 million diagnosed Alzheimer’s sufferers in China, why is Alzheimer’s the country’s biggest future health problem?

I would broaden it to say that the treatment of chronic diseases, with Alzheimer’s at the forefront, is the largest future challenge to China’s national healthcare system. From a country that in living memory only offered a very rudimentary system of barefoot doctors, who were often nothing more than well-meaning but untrained quacks, China in 20 short years has expanded genuine healthcare coverage to all corners of the country, providing acute care and medications to the vast majority of its citizens. That’s an enormous achievement; one that’s done more good for more people than probably any other government initiative anywhere at any time. Chronic diseases, on the other hand, were never a focus, indeed never much of a problem. But, Chinese life expectancy has lengthened dramatically, thanks in part of the improvement in the delivery of acute health services. Chinese are now living as long as people in Europe and the United States. The result: China is already feeling the strain of millions of older ill folks with no real treatment options in place. The demographic die is already cast. Within 25 years, China will become a more geriatric society, where at least 25 percent of the population is over 65. Chronic disease will become commonplace, more prevalent than in any other country.

What cultural challenges hinder or help Chinese society in managing Alzheimer’s?    

The generation of people now growing old in China had limited expectations, as they mainly grew up in dire poverty. As they aged, they accepted more stoically that society couldn’t provide much assistance except for immediate medical emergencies. Their children and grandchildren, however, are constituted differently. They often have education and expectations similar to people in the West, including that there should be quality treatment options in China for every medical issue, as there are in the U.S., Europe, Japan, and elsewhere. They increasingly want better treatment for their sick parents, and will certainly expect even more for themselves when they grow older and are diagnosed with chronic diseases like dementia and Parkinson’s, or need extended care and rehabilitation after a stroke or heart attack, both quite common in China. There is still so little care available in China to fulfill this growing need.

What can China learn from the United States and Europe?

Probably the key lesson is to not to expect, as too many in the U.S. and Europe did, a big breakthrough in Alzheimer’s care, the development of drugs to arrest the progress or undo the damage of the disease. The sad reality is despite huge sums spent on research, we’re as far away from such a medical miracle as we were 20 years and at least $20 billion ago. Instead, China needs to foster the development of thousands of quality treatment centers for Alzheimer’s patients, to care for them according to the best global standards, to lengthen and enrich their lives. This requires along with lots of new buildings a huge number of trained doctors, geriatricians, specialist nurses, and aides.

Describe differences between Chinese rural and urban treatment of Alzheimer’s.

Quality healthcare in China is still available mainly in large national hospitals located in major cities. Though the number of rural Chinese with Alzheimer’s is large and growing fast, there is virtually no professional care available for them locally. The government is seeking to change this, not only for chronic diseases, to raise the standards of healthcare in small cities and rural townships, to relieve the huge disproportionate burden on the big urban hospitals.

Identify opportunities for the international healthcare industry in addressing China’s looming Alzheimer’s challenge?  

Over the next 40 years in China, there is no single area offering better investment fundamentals than chronic care, including the care of Alzheimer’s. Sober forecasts are, by 2045, there will be over 40 million Chinese with Alzheimer’s, four times the number presently. By then, it’s likely half the total number of Alzheimer’s cases worldwide will be here in China. As of today, there are fewer than 500 beds in China for patients needing specialist Alzheimer’s treatment. A French company, Orpea, has a first mover advantage, having already opened a world-class facility in Nanjing. In financial terms, quality Alzheimer’s and chronic care provides very solid returns. As or more important, though, is that the benefits will be captured also by Chinese society as a whole. This will certainly be one of those areas where investors will do quite well by doing good, by contributing to a China where the diseases of old age will be competently managed and families kept happy and intact for longer.

 

As published by The Diplomat