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China Speeds Up Opening of Market to Investment Bank Giants

The Oriental Pearl Tower, center left, Shanghai World Financial Center, center, and the Shanghai Tower, center right, stand among other buildings in the Lujiazui Financial District along the Pudong riverside in this aerial photograph taken above Shanghai, China, on Monday, April 2, 2018. China's sprawling local government financing system needs "crucial" reforms to increase consumption, build prosperity and encourage economic rebalancing, the International Monetary Fund said. Photographer: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg

China brought forward the planned opening of its $21 trillion capital market by eight months, swinging the door open for global investment banks such as Goldman Sachs Group Inc.

The New York-based powerhouse, and rivals including JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Morgan Stanley, will now be allowed to apply to form fully owned units to do a broad array of investment banking and securities dealing in the Communist Party-ruled nation in April, compared with an earlier timetable set for December.

The decision was included in the signing of a trade deal with the U.S., partially resolving a protracted dispute that has weighed on the world’s second-largest economy. China had already committed to a broader opening of its $45 trillion financial markets, which also includes given access to its asset-management and insurance markets.

“China shall eliminate foreign equity limits and allow wholly U.S.-owned services suppliers to participate in the securities, fund management, and futures sectors,” according the text of the landmark Phase 1 trade agreement released Wednesday.

China said it won’t take longer than 90 days to consider applications from providers of electronic-payments services including American Express Co., Mastercard Inc. and Visa Inc. to handle transactions in the nation. It will remove restrictions to allow U.S.-owned insurance companies into its markets and also open its $14 trillion market to U.S. credit-rating companies.

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As a reciprocal move, the U.S. will “consider expeditiously” pending requests by Chinese financial firms including Citic Securities Co., China Reinsurance Group Corp. and China International Capital Corp. It committed to “non-discriminatory” treatment of payment providers such as UnionPay Co. and Chinese credit rating companies.

While Wall Street’s giants and their European counterparts have been present in mainland China for decades, and done deals for the country’s corporate titans, they have until now had limited opportunity to do direct business, having had to operate through joint ventures with local partners. Full ownership would be a final step after they in late 2018 were given the go-ahead to take majority control over their ventures.

Much Welcome

China has made “significant commitments” in the deal, Jake Parker, vice president at the U.S.-China Business Council, said in an e-mailed comment. “While China has already in the past year announced many of the commitments on the financial openings in the agreement, the inclusion of specific timelines on when these commitments will be implemented is very much welcome and will improve enforceability going forward.”

UBS Group AG, Nomura Holdings Inc. and JPMorgan already hold a majority in their ventures, while the others are in the process of applying for a 51% stake. It’s unclear if the application process will now move straight to the 100% hurdle.

By dismantling the wall to its financial market, China is counting on foreign financial firms to plow $1 trillion in fresh capital into the nation over the next few years, cushioning a slowdown in the economy and helping a transition to more consumer-led growth model.

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The global banks, meanwhile, have a lot to gain in getting access to China’s still-fast growing economy and its increasingly prosperous population. Up for grabs is an estimated $9 billion in annual profits by 2030 in the commercial banking and securities sectors alone, Bloomberg Intelligence estimates.

But they will still need to steer an often opaque and precarious political landscape. After meeting with global banking executives in November, President Xi Jinping warned that China would seek to preserve its “financial sovereignty” even as he committed to the market opening.

China’s official People’s Daily newspaper said in a comment that the deal is generally in line with its direction of advancing reforms and opening up, and will support its need for “high-quality economic growth.”

The newspaper said that the reforms and opening up will be done “at its own pace.”

The nation has plans to create investment banking behemoths of its own to compete with the foreign influx and expand abroad. Right now, China has a fragmented market of brokerages, with about 131 firms and a limited global presence. Their combined assets equal to what Goldman Sachs sits on by itself.


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