Temasek has agreed to buy Goldman Sachs’s shares in the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), the world’s largest bank. It will buy US$2.3bn worth of ICBC shares, taking its stake to 1.3% in the bank.
In an interview with Reuters at the end of March, Ho Ching’s presumed successor-in-training, Temasek’s head of portfolio management,acknowledged the heavy allocation to financials, but noted that it holds four very good banks: Bank of China, China Construction Bank, DBS Group and Standard Chartered. Well it has added ICBC to this list, and at a price close to the market price, unlike the stakes in the other two Chinese banks where it got a “special” price as a pre-IPO cornerstone investor.
But is it a wise move?
True, since the lows last October of the Chinese and HK stock markets, the shares of the four leading Chinese banks (including Bank of China, China Construction Bank and ICBC) have gone up by more than half, easily outperforming the broader market.
But since March, prices have been off (but masked by general market falls) because of concerns abt China’s growth, bad loans and comments by the Chinese PM, Wen Jiabao, who hinted of breaking the monopoly state-owned lenders have enjoyed in China’s banking sector. (The sector is dominated by four big state-owned banks and Temasek now has significant stakes in three of them.)
Mr Wen said that their monopoly was hurting businesses in the country, as they had few options to raise capital.
“Frankly, our banks make profits far too easily. Why? Because a small number of major banks occupy a monopoly position, meaning one can only go to them for loans and capital,” he was quoted as saying by China National Radio. “That’s why right now, as we’re dealing with the issue of getting private capital into the finance sector, essentially, that means we have to break up their monopoly.”
The lack of easy availability of capital has often been cited as threat to growth of small and medium-sized businesses in China. There have been fears that some of these businesses, seen as key to China’s growth, may turn to unofficial sectors for capital, increasing their borrowing costs substantially
But Temasek could be betting on, “Wen has one year left [in his term].” This was said by an unnamed Chinese state banker quoted by Reuters. “This is a task for the next generation of leaders. It cannot be accomplished within one year.”
But the banker could be wrong, Wen could be telling us what has been agreed upon between his generation and the next generation of leaders.
Remember, It took a beating on its finance industry holdings after the 2008 crisis, losing about $5 billion in stakes held in Barclays and Merrill Lynch, now part of Bank of America. It has since trimmed its financial holdings by 4 percentage points to 36 percent of the portfolio. Last month, it sold a 1.4 percent stake in India’s No.2 lender ICICI Bank. From said Reuters reported.
And of the remaining two “very good banks” where Temasek has significant stakes, DBS has juz decided to buy Temasek’s stake in Bank Danamon. Management will now be preoccupied with getting the deal approved by the Indonesian authorities, then integrating the bank into DBS. Before this deal, management had finally got to grips with DBS’s operational problems. The danger is that the focus on the Danamon deal may lead to backsliding in the area of operatons.
The genuine jewel is StanChart, but by global standards, it is “peanuts”.