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[海外投资] China Outbound: What’s Ahead?

周二在伦敦参加了中英贸易协会(CBBC)的2014中国商业论坛,也有幸和几位商业领袖探讨中国对外投资话题。中国对外投资(ODI)正好是从十年前开始猛增的,因此今年也是总结与回顾的好时机。

中国企业向外走,为什么?怎么走?中国企业在过去十年基本回答了这两个问题。限于时长,谈得并不深入,但我把说的内容贴在这里,请多指教。

                                                                                                                                                                       

This is a very good timing for a conversation about the Chinese outbound investment, because we are coming up to the ten year anniversary of the time when Chinese ODI -- overseas direct investment -- began to explode exponentially.  

Since 2004 this investment has been largely dictated by the needs of the SOEs, and they certainly still remain important. What I would like to do today is to present an overview of the nature of Chinese overseas investment, describe how it has changed over the last decade, and say what we can expect from the future.

The Chinese government's policies have been driven by pragmatism: they understand that China needs oil, natural resources to fuel its own economy; they understand China needs to have more tech-savvy companies to have a sustainable future; they also understand that China needs a bigger global market for Chinese companies to develop. This has always been the case.

But what has changed, especially over the past five years or so, is the growth in private (non-state owned) enterprises coming out of the country and looking to expand overseas. In the U.K. for example, you have got Ni Zhaoxing pumping up half a billion pounds to restore the Crystal Palace; you have Wang Jianlin building a five star hotel here in London; In America, you have Shuanghui buying Smithfield and Wang Jianlin getting into not only the property sector, but also entertainment. Therefore, we have more players in this field today.

More Growth?

Looking forward, we are going to see continued growth in ODI, but the rate of growth will be quite unpredictable and highly dependent on the success and pace of domestic economic/financial reforms. Most Chinese overseas investment is still driven by natural resources. And this is the reason why Chinese investment in Europe is quite low compared to other parts of the world.

China is changing as well. Disposable incomes are growing, the Chinese people will have more money to  invest and to spend themselves. From the reforms announced in the third Plenum we can expect a growth in the consumer market in China. One hope for Europe as a destination for Chinese ODI might be if these domestic companies in China associated with the new consumer class themselves become large outbound investors; many will find investments in European land, property etc attractive.

But the effect of domestic reforms at the same time might prove double-edged; a growing service sector in China, might prompt Chinese investors to seek returns at home (in a market they understand, with less exchange-rate risk or political backlash) rather than take it overseas. It is this uncertainty -- which is largely political not economic-- that makes the future hard to predict accurately.

British Opportunities

So what are the opportunities for British companies? I think in order to answer this question, we have to look at what are Chinese companies short of. Various recent reports suggest that 70-90% of Chinese overseas investments are not successful. The explanation might partly be cultural, but also to do with a lack of know-how. When I was in the US last year, a lawyer friend complained to me that it is always good to approach Chinese companies, but after several dinners, giving them advice, they suddenly disappear. Clearly, there is a lack of appreciation of the need for such professional services.

Therefore, opportunities emerge. One of the panelists today talked about the accounting opportunities for British firms, and I think there is a great opportunity for legal advisory services as well; consulting, helping Chinese companies do preliminarily work, identify a strategy would also add value. Other than that, PR services. Chinese managers are not really good at listening to criticism, don’t really understand how to deal with media, and in some extreme cases, they’ll even link media expose to a political attack. Therefore, it will be very helpful to have PR firms advising their strategies.

To conclude, we have witnesses a change over the last decade in the nature and extent of Chinese overseas investment. The trend in the future will also be determined by the outcome of domestic reforms in China. But there are, and will continue to be,  great opportunities for UK businesses -- especially on the professional services side -- in dealing with Chinese companies overseas.

(注:文中图片出处:1, www.lawline.com; 2, www.flickr.com/cbbc; 3, www.cbbc.org)

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