Posts tagged ‘Finance’

20/08/2016

The Chinese admiral who spread Islam across Southeast Asia | South China Morning Post

Near my childhood home in Kunming (昆明), Yunnan (雲南) province, is a park dedicated to its most famous son: Admiral Zheng He.

Our teacher would take us to pay tribute to the great eunuch of the Ming dynasty, recounting his legendary seven expeditions that brought glory to the motherland.

The marble bust of Zheng He shows the face of a typical Chinese, with a square chin, brushy eyebrows and a flat nose. My father joked it more resembled comrade Lei Feng than the admiral. Not until years later did I realise how true this was.

A statue of Zheng He in Nanjing, where his armada was built. File photo

The statue was erected in 1979 – a year after Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平) launched his open-door policy. Zheng, barely mentioned during the Cultural Revolution, was plucked from obscurity and hailed as a national hero who embodied China’s open spirit. A park near his ancestral home was dedicated to him. The same craftsmen who churned out revolutionary statues were employed to build his.

In real life, Zheng probably looked very different. My school textbook mentioned only that he was a Hui minority (Muslim Chinese). In fact, the admiral was a descendent of a powerful Persian family. Records discovered in 1913 trace his lineage to Sayyid Ajall, who was sent by Kublai Khan to conquer Yunnan and became its first governor. In 2014, Chinese scientists at Fudan University in Shanghai put the theory to test. They examined DNA samples collected from descendents of the admiral’s close kin and found they originated from Persia, modern-day Iran. In addition to Zheng He, most senior officers of the storied Ming armada were also Muslims.

Beijing follows the route well travelled by Admiral Zheng He in its belt and road initiative

Over the past decades, researchers have concluded Zhang and his armada were the key force behind Islam’s spread in Southeast Asia. The Arabs established settlements in Southeast Asia from the eighth century. But Islam did not become dominant there until the 15th century – around the time Admiral Zheng began to sail in the South China Sea. Historians found evidence of Zheng’s missionary work in documents discovered in Semarang, Indonesia, by Dutch officials in 1925. This prompted Indonesian religious leader Hamka to write in 1961: “The development of Islam in Indonesia and Malaysia is intimately related to a Chinese Muslim, Admiral Zheng He.

”A crowning moment of Zheng’s expedition was converting the King of Malacca, Parameswara, to Islam shortly after he paid homage to the Yongle Emperor in Beijing in 1411. The conversion played a crucial role in the spread of Islam in Southeast Asia, according to Professor Xiao Xian of Yunnan University.

A replica of a ship used by Ming Dynasty eunuch explorer Zheng He, in Nanjing. Photo: Reuters

Xiao was one of the scholars who presented research work on Zheng He at an international symposium in 2005. They painted a vivid picture of the Ming armada, which had all the elements of a multinational enterprise.

The 300 ships – many twice as big as the largest European vessels of the time – were constructed in dry docks in Nanjing ( 南京 ), Jiangsu ( 江蘇 ) province. Building materials were sourced from across the Ming Empire. The 27,000-strong crew included Han Chinese, Muslim Hui, Arabs, Persians, and peoples from Central and East Asia. The lingua franca was Persian or Sogdian – a language used for centuries by merchants of the ancient Silk Road, according to Professor Liu Yingsheng of Nanjing University.

Size was not the only difference between Zheng’s fleet and that of Christopher Columbus 70 years later. The Europeans aboard the Santa Maria were exclusively Catholic – the Ming fleet was culturally and religiously diverse. Zheng was a Muslim but he was fluent in the teachings of Confucius, Buddhism and classic Chinese philosophy. The fleet included many Buddhist missionaries. Many regard his expeditions as the high-water mark of Chinese civilization. The Ming armada’s true greatness lay not in its size or sophistication but in its diversity and tolerance.

A statue of famed Chinese navigator Zheng He overlooks the city of Nanjing, Jiangsu province. Photo: AFP

After the Yongle Emperor’s death, the Ming court lost its global vision. Power was in the hands of the Confucius gentry-class, who jealously guarded against other schools of thoughts. China became increasingly introspective and insulated. The court stopped further expeditions and banned seafaring. The Chinese civilization gradually lost its vigour and started a long decline.

Today as the new “Silk Road” and “soft power” become China’s new catchphrases, it is important to remember what makes the Chinese civilization unique in the first place. Its greatest strength lies in its people’s amazing ability to absorb, adopt and assimilate different cultures.

Buddhism, which originated in India, flourished in China. The Zen school – a hybrid of Indian Buddhism and Chinese Taoism – spread to East Asia by monks in the Tang dynasty and became mainstream. Islam arrived from Central Asia and the Middle East during the Yuan and Ming dynasties. It took root in western China before spreading to Southeast Asia with Zhang’s fleet. We should remember that until 100 years ago, China was not a nation state in the Westphalian sense. Narrow-minded nationalism and xenophobia are the exception rather than the norm of the world’s oldest surviving civilization.

Source: The Chinese admiral who spread Islam across Southeast Asia | South China Morning Post

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04/12/2014

China bolsters support for farm sector with tax breaks | Reuters

China is increasing its support for agriculture by renewing select tax breaks that have expired, the government said on Wednesday, in another move to support the real economy.

A farmer plants paddy on a terrace field in Suichuan county, Jiangxi province May 20, 2014. REUTERS-Stringer

China’s stumbling economy this year has pared banks’ tolerance for risk when they lend, further reducing the supply of loans to small-time borrowers who are usually ignored by banks because they are deemed to be high-risk borrowers.

Financial companies do not have to pay a business tax on the interest earned on agricultural loans worth no more than 100,000 yuan ($16,260), the Chinese cabinet said after a weekly meeting.

Their corporate income tax would also be discounted by 10 percent to “muster the enthusiasm of financial institutions when it comes to lending to farmers”, the cabinet, or State Council, said in an online statement.

The tax breaks, previously in place but had expired, would be reinstated and are effective until the end of 2016.

Insurers that sell insurance to crop and livestock farmers would also get a 10 percent discount on their corporate income tax, the government said.

A tax break that cuts the business tax to three percent for financial firms working within counties would also be extended until the end of 2016, the cabinet said.

Buffeted by a slowing housing market and slowing domestic demand and investment, China’s economy is forecast by some analysts to be sliding towards its worst downturn in nearly a quarter of a century this year.

Annual growth in the world’s second-largest economy could fall to 7.4 percent, a Reuters poll showed in October.

To rejuvenate the real economy, China announced a cut in interest rates of 40 basis points on Nov. 21 in a move that the central bank said was aimed at lowering borrowing cost.

via China bolsters support for farm sector with tax breaks | Reuters.

01/04/2014

The economy: On cloud nine trillion | The Economist

SOME economic journalists are like stormbirds: they come alive when financial clouds gather and the thunder rolls. Your correspondent’s career has been different. He has migrated away from trouble, escaping crisis-struck Britain for booming India in 2007, then leaving that country before it sank into its sad, stagflationary funk. This will be his last week covering China’s economy—which is just as well, given the whiff of ozone in the air.

This month China’s corporate-bond market suffered its first default since it began in its present form, a widely watched manufacturing index fell for the fifth month in a row, and officials in one eastern county rushed to placate worried depositors lining up to withdraw money from two small banks. It would seem a good time for a fair-weather bird to fly away.

But China remains a resilient economy. It still has substantial room for error and a lot of room to grow. Although it is already a very big economy (its $9 trillion GDP is bigger than 154 other economies combined) it is not yet a very rich one. Its income per head (at market exchange rates) is only 13% of America’s and ranks below that of more than 80 other economies.

Because China is already the world’s second-biggest economy, it attracts scrutiny that smaller economies escaped when they were at a similar stage of maturity. Observers expect it to pass financial thresholds that other catch-up economies did not cross until much later in their development. This month’s bond default, for example, represents a painful but necessary step towards maturity for China’s capital markets. Most commentators saw it as a woefully belated coming-of-age. But Japan did not record its first bond default until the late 1990s, when its standard of living was 3.7 times China’s today. Likewise back when South Korea had the same income per person as China enjoys now, foreigners paid little attention to its monthly manufacturing wobbles.

The heft of China’s GDP combined with the modesty of its GDP per person is one of the curiosities of China’s economy. But it is not the only one (see box). Another example is China’s “financial repression”. Its central bank caps the interest rate that banks can pay depositors, imposing an implicit tax on their savings. But in China, unlike other countries, this repression does not discourage saving. In fact, it appears to do the opposite. The country’s households are “target savers”: they squirrel away money to meet a fixed financial goal, such as the down-payment on a home. If their thrift is poorly rewarded, they simply do more to reach their target.

China’s financial repression has therefore proved surprisingly sustainable (although restless depositors have sought higher returns from online funds and wealth-management products). It has contributed to China’s remarkably high rate of saving, which reached over 50% of GDP in 2012. This is more than China can invest at home, obliging it to export some of its saving (typically 2-3% of GDP) abroad. This incurs the wrath of its trading partners. But therein lies a paradox. Even as China is frequently lambasted for excess saving, the same critics also accuse it of excess borrowing. Worrywarts point out that credit in China has increased from about 100% of GDP five years ago to about 135% of GDP today. The central bank’s broader measure of financing (which includes the bond market and some bits of shadow banking among other items) is 180%.

How can an economy suffer from both excess saving and excess borrowing? This riddle is best answered with a textbook parable. Consider a one-farm economy, which yields a GDP of 100 ears of corn. The farmer gives half to a fieldhand as wages and keeps the rest for himself. The fieldhand eats half of his wages and lends the remainder (25 ears) to the farmer. The farmer now has 75 ears of corn. He eats 25 of them, ploughs 48 back into the field as seed corn for next year’s harvest and lends two to a neighbouring farm.

To an economist, saving means anything not consumed. Therefore this economy, like China’s, has a remarkably high saving rate (the 50% of corn not eaten). But this high saving is combined with heavy domestic borrowing: the farmer has added 25% of GDP to outstanding debt. If, instead of lending corn to the farmer, the fieldhand ate it, saving would fall (because more corn is now being consumed) and so would borrowing (because the farmhand is now consuming his own earnings, rather than lending half of them out).

China’s economy last year harvested over $9 trillion worth of goods and services. Almost half of that output consisted of new capital goods (infrastructure, housing, factories and machinery). This investment rate of about 48% of GDP is among the highest ever recorded. Some of this frantic accumulation has been wasteful: building cities without citizens, and bridges without destinations. It is as if the farmer scattered some seed corn on stony ground, where it failed to take root.

This “malinvestment” is a pity but it is not enough to undermine China’s economic future. The country, as its critics suggest, should have consumed these resources rather than squandering them on ill-conceived ventures. If it had done so, its people would be happier. But, it is important to realise, they would not be any wealthier. Consumption, like malinvestment, leaves no useful assets behind. If the farmhand had eaten the wheat his boss scattered on stony ground, he would be better fed but next year’s harvest would be no bigger.

via The economy: On cloud nine trillion | The Economist.

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04/01/2014

Tiny Loans for Tiny Homes – India Real Time – WSJ

From what began as a small experiment helping slum dwellers buy homes in Mumbai, Micro Housing Finance Corporation Ltd. has grown into a multi-million dollar business making loans across the country.

The Mumbai-based company, which gives low-income households loans to buy homes, now operates in more than 15 cities, with Coimbatore, in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, being the most recent addition just last month.

“Housing finance companies focus on serving the top 3% to 5% of the population because it’s easier and cheaper,” to give big loans to rich people, said Madhusudhan Menon, chairman of Micro Housing Finance. “No one wants [low income] customers who don’t have documentation of their income.”

The lack of home loans to those most in need of them is one of the main reasons more than 90% of India’s acute housing shortage of around 19 million units falls on the urban poor, according to a report released by real-estate consultancy Jones Lang LaSalle.

For most of the urban poor, owning an apartment with reliable electricity or even a water connection is out of reach even if they have a regular income because banks refuse to give the poor housing loans.

More than 41% of the population of the megacity of Mumbai lives in slums, defined as residential areas unfit for human habitation due to dilapidation, over-crowding, poor ventilation and lack of sanitation facilities, according to government estimates. That figure could be brought down sharply if builders constructed affordable housing for the city’s hardworking poor and housing finance companies gave them long-term home loans.

via Tiny Loans for Tiny Homes – India Real Time – WSJ.

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03/01/2014

China’s Runaway Train Is Running Out of Track – Bloomberg

A financial drama is unfolding in China as the new year begins. Last week, for the second time in six months, interest rates in the critical interbank lending market spiked above 10 percent, prompting fears of a liquidity crisis that would trigger mass defaults and cripple the world’s second-largest economy.

Western investors largely ignored the cash crunch and failed to grasp its potential significance. Although the situation has largely eased after the People’s Bank of China hastily injected at least $55 billion into the market, that isn’t the end of the story. These repeated crises are a sign that the foundations of China’s investment-driven growth model are crumbling — with unsettling implications for the rest of the global economy.

To those who wrote off China’s first banking seizure in June as a fluke, this latest episode appeared to come out of nowhere. They cast about for explanations: Perhaps some seasonal surge in cash withdrawals was to blame, or the U.S. Federal Reserve’s decision to taper its bond-buying policy. Optimists assumed the PBOC was tightening credit on purpose, as a warning to banks to rein in unsafe lending practices. With inflation at manageable levels, they reasoned, the People’s Bank of China had plenty of room to loosen monetary policy again and ease the cash crunch.

In fact, loose monetary policy is the problem, not the solution. Two simple words — bad debt — are the key to understanding why China has too much money, yet not enough. In the years since the global financial crisis, China has racked up impressive growth in gross domestic product by engineering an investment boom, fueled by a surge in easy credit. Total debt has risen sharply, from 125 percent of GDP in 2008 to 215 percent in 2012. Credit has spiraled to $24 trillion from $9 trillion at the end of 2008. That’s an additional $15 trillion – – the size of the entire U.S. commercial banking sector — lent out in just five years.

A lot of that money has gone into projects whose purpose was to inflate the country’s economic statistics, not to generate a return. Officially, China’s banks report a nonperforming loan ratio of less than 1 percent. In reality, they are rolling over huge amounts of bad debt, both on their own books and by repackaging it into retail investment products — many of them extremely short-term — that promise ever higher rates of return.

China’s banks can hide bad debt by playing this shell game, yet that doesn’t change the fact that they’re not getting their money back. With their capital locked up in existing projects, the only way they can finance the next round of big investments — and keep China’s GDP growth rates from collapsing — is by expanding credit. More and more of that new credit is now eaten up paying imaginary returns on the growing pile of bad debt.

This year, total credit in China grew about 20 percent, from an extremely high base — hardly tight money. Yet the cash needs of China’s banks aren’t what they seem. In addition to its declared balance sheet, each bank is juggling a host of dubious assets and hidden cash obligations (in the form of quasi-deposits) on what amounts to a “shadow” balance sheet. Rein in credit growth, even modestly, and there isn’t enough to go around.

That’s what Chinese authorities discovered in June, and again last week. In both instances, the People’s Bank of China didn’t take away the punch bowl by tightening credit, it merely tried to resist handing over an even bigger punch bowl. The result, both times, was a near-meltdown in the interbank lending market that threatened to unleash a cascade of defaults throughout the economy. Nor have the signs of financial stress been limited to the interbank market: Over the past few months, yields on Chinese government and corporate bonds have steadily risen, even as the economy slows.

The PBOC could, and did, halt the immediate liquidity crisis by injecting more cash. But in doing so, it effectively cedes control over monetary policy to the shadow banks. Runaway lending continues, bad debts mount even higher, and the need for more cash to paper over losses becomes that much more acute. Far from solving the problem, pumping in more cash just kicks the can farther down a dead-end street.

The implications of this brewing storm are bigger than many global investors realize. China’s credit-fueled investment boom has been a driver of metals prices and machinery exports. China has become the world’s largest automobile market, its largest oil importer, and its largest buyer of gold. Although foreign banks have relatively little direct exposure to Chinese financial markets, capital flows into and out of the mainland are potentially large enough to have a significant impact on asset classes not normally associated with China. A financial train wreck would send tremors through global markets.

The detailed blueprint for market reform published by the Communist Party in November encouraged many. China’s leaders clearly recognize that its economy needs to move in a new direction. But the first crucial step, weaning China away from its addiction to debt-fueled stimulus, is proving a lot harder than many imagined. China’s leaders are riding a runaway train that they don’t quite know how to stop. And they’re running out of track.

via China’s Runaway Train Is Running Out of Track – Bloomberg.

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