China's Big Bang Bombshell: Beijing Opens Financial Sector To Foreign Ownership, But Why Now?

That was quick.

Trump leaves China (only to go back on the offensive about unfair trade practices in his APEC speech) and just hours later Trump's new Beijing friends announce that foreign firms will be permitted to take majority ownership in Chinese financial firms… well capped at 51% for now anyway. We doubt that this occurred out of the blue and was surely being worked on in the run-up to Trump’s visit. Furthermore, we suspect that Bloomberg’s Chief Asia Economist, Tom Orlik, had got wind of it ahead of time. In our preview of Trump’s visit (see “Will Xi Offer Trump A Small Victory On Trade As Cover For His Longer-Term Ambitions"), we noted this comment of his.

"In an optimistic scenario, Trump’s appetite for tweetable wins and China’s longer-term focus could coalesce around financial market opening -- a boon for the U.S. investment banks, and a support for China as it attempts to tame its credit boom," Orlik said.

Bloomberg is describing China’s move as “China’s Big Bang moment”, harking back to the deregulation of the London Stock Exchange in 1986, which permitted commercial and investment banks, both UK and foreign, to own brokers and dealers, all backstopped by deposits. Following today’s announcement foreign firms will be able to take a majority ownership in banks, securities brokerages (China’s term for investment banks), asset managers and life insurers. The chatter on the financial news networks this morning is beyond superlative, including comments such as “giant step”, “milestone”, “timing auspicious” and “the timing is conciliatory”.In reality, it could be a giant headfake.

Here's Bloomberg.

China took a major step toward the long-awaited opening of its financial system, removing foreign ownership limits on its banks and asset-management companies, and allowing overseas firms to take majority stakes in local securities ventures and insurers. Regulators are drafting detailed rules, which will be released soon, Vice Finance Minister Zhu Guangyao said at a briefing in Beijing on Friday. Foreign firms will be allowed to own up to 51 percent in securities ventures and life-insurance companies, caps that will be removed gradually over time, he said.

China’s steps look poised to end years of frustration for foreign banks, who have long been marginal players in Asia’s largest economy. The announcement could be seen as a major win for U.S. President Donald Trump, whose first official visit to China was followed by a string of Sino-U.S. deals. On Thursday, China’s Foreign Ministry foreshadowed the latest moves, with a statement saying that entry barriers to sectors such as banking, insurance, securities and funds will be “substantially” eased. Those comments came following a meeting between Trump and his counterpart Xi Jinping.

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