Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Chinese Investment Abroad

Reuters has some interesting analysis regarding the loosening of China's external investment policy last week:
China gives investors foretaste of liquidity wave

LONDON (Reuters) - China's recent loosening of rules to allow more investment abroad is a reminder to investors and central bankers around the world that a new wave of global liquidity may well buoy future asset prices.

In what Morgan Stanley dubbed a "baby step", China last week announced moves to allow Chinese investors to invest indirectly in foreign equities and derivative products.

The scope, however, was narrow. It applies to investment through qualified Chinese commercial banks and the quota at issue is currently only about $14 billion with just half of what is raised allowed to go to equities instead of fixed income.

...That said, the mere idea of Chinese money coming to overseas stock markets has been enough to stir investor juices. Hong Kong-listed stocks in mainland companies, or H shares, surged more than 5 percent to an all-time high on Monday after the Chinese announcement.

The excitement, of course, is primarily based on potential, the belief that a wall of money will eventually come to world markets from Chinese investors.

To get some idea of the potential, consider that total yuan deposits in China were worth around $4.8 trillion at the end of April, with slightly less than $2 trillion of it in household deposits.

Fitch Ratings estimates China held nearly $500 billion in external assets last year excluding foreign exchange reserves while, in another baby step, China is setting up an agency to invest part of its $1.2 trillion reserves in world markets.

State media suggests it will initially manage some $200 billion.

Great oaks from such little acorns grow.
The notes of caution that the article injects are well-placed; it will take a long time before substantial amounts of non-government Chinese investment money starts flowing out of China.

But I find the piece interesting for two reasons. First, it's a good reminder that a lot of players in the financial world are busily looking for "the next wave of liquidity" to give (another?) boost to asset prices. What that implies, exactly, I'm not quite sure, but as a basis for guaging future asset prices it does seem slightly suspect to me.

But secondly, it's also a good reminder about exactly how much investment money the Chinese governmental authorities have to dispose of. Whether we're talking about $500 billion of non-forex assets held by Chinese official entities, or the well over $1 trillion dollars in foreign exchange assets they hold, it's impossible to overstate exactly how big a player China is in the world's financial markets today.

China's influence on the world's finances has generally received less attention than its influence on world trade, simply because Chinese overseas investment behavior (unlike Chinese export growth) has generally not had any dramatic side-effects on the rest of the world. But in another decade that could well change.

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