Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Wen Pushes for Banking Revamp

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao is still on his reform rant, after effectively sacking Chongqing party chief Bo Xilai in front of a live audience and said the country needed to move away from its dark Cultural Revolution days and continue with political reforms.

He doesn't mean universal suffrage, but more democracy within the ruling party.

But I digress.

Yesterday Wen said it was time to break the cartel China's four main banks have enjoyed for years.

"Our banks are profiting too easily. Why? That's because only a few big banks command monopoly positions -- [business] can only get financing from them and [it is] hardly [possible] elsewhere," Wen told private entrepreneurs during a three-day trip to Fujian and Guangxi.

His solution is to have more private capital enter the banking and financial system to break up what is basically a cartel.

However the government have created the situation the four state-owned banks are in now -- Bank of China, Agricultural Bank of China, Industrial and Commercial Bank of China and China Construction Bank.

These four make up 40 percent of China's total loans and last year they made net profits of $99 billion, more than double their US equivalents of Citibank, JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America Merrill Lynch and Wells Fargo.

The rest of the loans are made by smaller banks or underground ones that charge exorbitant interest rates, making it inevitable for lenders to default, and as a result skip town or worse, commit suicide, as in the case of some businessmen Wenzhou about half a year ago.

State-owned banks prefer lending to state-owned enterprises, knowing they will get their money back, and less interested in loaning to small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that desperately need the capital to expand their businesses.

As a result, Wen wants to make credit more accessible to smaller businesses because they are the ones creating employment and stimulating local economies.

However, his words were not conveyed by all state media. Neither Xinhua nor People's Daily carried Wen's remarks, which indicate his ideas were not endorsed by the government.

We shall see if the leadership is interested in entertaining Wen's suggestions and if so, how long it will take to implement them.

And while Wen's at it, why not break up the mobile phone monopoly as well? For 1.3 billion people there are only three providers in the market?

So much work to do, so little time...

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