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Lawyers, consultants set to cash in on China investment boom (06/1/2000)

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 Lawyers, consultants set to cash in on China investment boom (06/1/2000) hjw2

Lawyers, consultants set to cash in on China investment boom (06/1/20.

02.06.00 10:01

Foreign law firms and market research consultancies are bracing themselves for a flood of enquiries about doing business in China now the country is racing towards World Trade Organization membership.

"CEOs around the world will be asking `what's our policy on China?', and we'll be busy because those questions are being asked," said a partner with a European law firm in Shanghai.

Lawyers and consultants doing due diligence on investment projects and market researchers who can answer questions on who is buying what in China will be the first to benefit from the sea change in investor sentiment.

Foreign investment, which flooded into China at the beginning of the 1990s, slowed to a trickle in the wake of the Asian financial crisis as Asian investors licked their wounds and Westerners shied away.

Actual foreign direct investment in China fell 11.4 percent last year to 40.4 billion dollars, while pledged investment plunged 21 percent from 1998 to 41 billion dollars.

Over the past two years foreign investors have been reevaluating their strategy on China, said Ken Davies, senior regional economist with the Economist Intelligence Unit.

"Before you had to be there because your competitors were, or because you were in for the long-haul. But people began to ask do you really have to be there if you are not making any money?," Davies said.

But even before China sealed a trade deal with the European Union in May and US Congress voted to grant China permanent normal trading relations, pledged foreign investment began to climb.

In the first two months of the year pledged foreign investment rose 13.6 percent year-on-year to 6.5 billion dollars, although actual investment fell 12.1 percent over the period.

"Companies are either taking a closer look at what they've got or looking into new projects," said EIU's Davies.

Numbers published in Shanghai Wednesday told a similar story.

Overseas investors in the city signed 422 million dollars worth of capital contracts last month, almost twice as much as in April 1999 and pledged contractual foreign investment climbed 13.6 percent in the first four months of the year, a local English daily reported.

Neil Davy, a research director with market research consultancy MBL China, said that fast-moving consumer goods firms will be looking to strengthen their position in China in the next six to twelve months.

"We expect a significant increase in interest, not only from existing companies in China looking to invest more but also new product launches," he said.

Consulting firms will also cash in on firms looking for distributors or potential joint-venture partners in order to enter the China market, Davy added.

The WTO deals hammered out with the United States and the EU will prize open the doors to foreign investment in areas ranging from insurance to information technology.

Foreign firms are looking to position themselves ahead of the pack by formulating their investment plans now before trade concessions and lower tariff barriers are phased in over a two to five year period.

Telecommunications and IT will likely lead the charge. China is poised to overtake Australia as the largest information technology market in the Asia-Pacific region outside Japan, according to market research firm International Data Corporation

European firms especially, will be looking to make up lost ground in the coming years, as Europe's IT firms have lagged behind the Japanese and Americans in building their China businesses, said Chi Lo, head of treasury research at Standard Chartered in Hong Kong.

"I am looking at a 20 percent year-on-year rise in foreign investment this year, and 10 percent in 2001," Lo predicted.

 Lawyers, consultants set to cash in on China investment boom (06/1/2000) hjw2


It's A New Day: The VC-30 Grows Up

By Douglas C. McGill

(Virtual China, June 1) To borrow from an old cigarette advertising slogan just for a moment, do we want an index of China stocks that tastes good, or one with good taste?

Translation: do we want an index of interesting micro-cap stocks that gyrate like crazy and occasionally hit really big, or do we want a more sedate group of stocks that represent larger and longer-term investments in China? The second group won’t fluctuate as much from day to day but in theory will track more closely significant flucutations of the China-Western business climate.

In these post PNTR days, I vote for the latter. If there was ever a day marking the maturing of U.S.-China relations, it was last Wednesday. That’s why I think it’s important the Virtual China 30 start to look more like the Dow Jones Industrial Average than GlobalNet’s Microcap 1000.

Companies like Motorola

Two weeks before the PNTR vote, we added Motorola to the Virtual China 30 for these reasons. Watching the market react to the PNTR vote, it’s clear the index should contain more companies like Motorola - major Western companies whose share prices noticeably rise or fall based on their current business and especially on their prospects in China.

The day after Congress granted China normal trading status, nearly every one of the major telecommunications companies making heavy investments in China rose on the news. Ericsson (NASD: ERICY) rose .56 to 19; Nokia (NYSE: NOK) rose 1.63 to 49.63; Alacatel (NYSE: ALA) rose 2 to 46.378; Cisco (NASD: CSCO) rose 2.25 to 57.38; and Nortel (NYSE: NT) rose 2.63 to 54.13.

Gamblers and Golddiggers

Even a year ago, it made sense to make a China-related investment index out of microcaps - the share prices of multinationals in China hardly ever budged based on their China business or prospects, and most of the companies announcing interesting new business in China were startups, entrepreneurs, and plain old gamblers and golddiggers heading East.

That was a colorful crowd, but the fact is those early days are coming to a close. Today, just for fun, I printed out the last two days worth of Yahoo headlines on China. A year ago, there might have been one or two interesting new ventures announced each day, mostly by smallfry. Today, I counted no fewer than 58 announcements of joint ventures, private placements, regulatory approvals, and bullish China announcements by major American companies pushing into China. Microsoft, which just saw a year in which China revenues doubled, predicted the same would happen again this year. Toyota announced it will make 30,000 compact cars in China. Ericsson, Compaq, Applied Materials, Network Solutions and Netalone were among the others to announce new China ventures.

More Even Keel

The Virtual China 30, as it evolves, should go towards becoming a reliable daily indicator of the state of China-Western business climate. And that means having larger, more heavily invested companies on that index. By virtue of their close ties to the Chinese government, the managements and the share prices of those companies will also tend to thrive or wane more reliably in step with the warming and cooling of China-Western affairs.

True, Motorola or Ericsson stock moves only ten days a year on China news, but that is ten days more than a year ago, and things are going in that direction. Rest assured, now, major China news will always move those kinds of stocks, and the VC-30 as well. In the meantime, the relative stability of those stocks will tend to keep the VC-30 on a more even keel.

Gamblers and Buccaneers

Also in keeping with our “growing up” trend, most of the new Virtual China 30 stocks are traded on the NASDAQ, New York Stock Exchange, or Stock Exchange of Hong Kong. For variety, one NASDAQ-traded new media Taiwan stock (Gigamedia), and two “old economy” ADR’s traded on the NYSE have also been included as they tend to respond to changes in the China-Western business climate as sensitively, and sometimes more so, than any other: China Eastern Airlines and Shanghai Petrochemical.

At the same time, we recognize that great ideas often arise in the smallest companies, and that China-Western trade remains a tremendously fertile area for enterprising businessfolk - gamblers and buccaneers included. They’re often the most interesting companies, and sometimes the most profitable ones, to track and invest in. So we’ll continue to watch the microcaps and smallcaps in China although, increasingly, in another setting than the VC-30.

Here’s the new lineup, provisional for now:

The Virtual China 30

China Eastern Airlines
China Telecom
Global Crossing
HKT - Cable & Wireless
New Tel
Pacific Century
Shanghai Petrochemical
Zi Corp

The following aggressive young micro- and small-cap companies will continue to be covered, and rated using the "V-Rating System," under another rubric yet to be decided:

Cathay Online
China Contintental
Communication Intelligence
The Hartcourt Companies Inc.
My Web
Southland Financial Inc.
Telpac Industries Inc.
Tianrong Internet Products & Services
Vertical Computer Systems Inc.
Xin Net

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