China Banking Research

If at first you don't succeed in buying a money-transfer company, try again. Just make sure you go shopping in a friendly jurisdiction. That strategy paid off for the Alibaba affiliate Ant Financial as it acquired the UK's WorldFirst for $700 million in mid February.

February 15 2019

Wither China's P2P Lenders

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Peer-to-peer lending in China is cratering amidst a heavy-handed government crackdown aimed at stamping out fraud in the once-booming online loan sector. Nationwide, authorities are tightening the screws on the $176 billion industry. By some analysts' estimates, the crackdown could wipe out up to 70% of China's P2P firms. Among the most recent major firms to call it quits is Shanghai-based Yidai, who kicked off 2019 by announcing it was exiting P2P lending. Its 32,000 lenders (with a principal balance of RMB 4 billion) would be repaid within five years, the company said.

Germany is pressing China to follow through on nearly two-decade-old promises to open its financial sector to foreign competition. In a January 18 dialogue in Beijing, the two countries vowed to open their respective markets wider to each other's banks and insurers. Reportedly, Beijing and Berlin signed three agreements: one between the two central banks, one regarding cooperation in securities and futures trading, and one to examine banking regulations together.

In 2018, Chinese banks lent a record $2.4 trillion in loans. That the credit spigot opened is no surprise: The banks had the full backing of Beijing, who looked on nervously as the Chinese economy limped - by its standards, anyway - to the finish line with just 6.5% annual growth, its worst performance since 1990. It wasn't so long ago that China could expect 9% annual growth.

All things considered, the U.S. and China had amicable trade discussions this week. With the clock ticking on the 90-day trade-war ceasefire, both sides have impetus to resolve the trade tiff. The Chinese economy likely grew at its slowest pace in 30 years - 6.5% - in 2018 as U.S. tariffs battered exports. The U.S. economy remains resilient for now, but U.S. President Donald Trump is watching the mercurial stock market nervously. People close to the administration say that he hopes to reach a trade deal with China to rally investors.

At first blush, Didi Chuxing doesn't seem in dire need of a new business model. As China's top ride-hailing app, the Beijing-based firm boasts more than half a billion users and millions of drivers. Granted, it has been burning money for years, but that's par for the course among unicorns - tech startups valued at US$1 billion or more - and some analysts believe Didi could raise up to US$80 billion in an expected 2019 IPO.

China's major banks are moving to open wealth-management units following a regulatory overhaul designed to strengthen risk management and oversight of fund flows in the Chinese financial system. The new rules allow bank subsidiaries to invest up to 35% of a product's net assets in "non-standard credit assets," i.e.: "off-balance-sheet loans.

At the end of 2017, regulations tightened around the cash loan industry in China and locked 36% as the highest APR lenders can collect on any loans. One year later, although many platforms have disappeared, others have transformed and are back at the forefront of lending in China.

In China, financial cloud has become a key goal for financial institutions in 2016. According to ‘the 13th Five-year Plan’, by the end of 2020, banks’ online business system should all be transferred to cloud and more than 60% of their other business systems should be moved online. With this clear direction, banks are taking actions. The China Academy of Information and Communications Technology (CAICT) found that in 2017, 42% of financial institutions are applying to use cloud, whilst 47% are in the process of planning the transition to cloud as companies seek to establish agile banking infrastructure.

Financial results from China's banks are improving recently as tight regulation is limiting the expansion of 3rd party competition, while overall bank profitability is increasing.

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