As a new “silicon curtain” crashes down between the technological infrastructure of America and some of its allies and China and the countries in its sphere of influence, there has begun to be talk about restricting flows of capital as well as goods between the two nations. Some have fretted that China might dump its holdings of US treasuries in retaliation for escalating tariffs. Other analysts have speculated that U.S. financial institutions might soon be prohibited from investing in securities in mainland China’s state-owned enterprises. And now Senator Marco Rubio has put the nuclear option on the table with a bill and editorial in the Wall Street Journal, “You Can’t Trust a Chinese Audit,” proposing to potentially boot hundreds of Chinese companies off of U.S. stock markets.
Fraser Howie is one of the most astute observers of China’s banking and financial systems, and his book Red Capitalism: The Fragile Foundations of China’s Extraordinary Rise is required reading for anyone who wants to understand China’s transformation from an impoverished backwater into a powerhouse of authoritarian capitalism. Fraser has spent over two decades trading, analyzing, and writing about Asian stock markets and has worked for companies including Bankers Trust, Morgan Stanley, CICC, and CLSA. He is a regular commentator on Asian financial markets and monetary policy for international print and television outlets.
MarcumBP’s Drew Bernstein caught up with Fraser recently to understand his views on how the economic and business environment is changing and the challenges that Chinese policymakers face.
I thought it would be useful to share key takeaways from the recent Bloomberg Invest Asia conference, an invitation only event for international business leaders to exchange ideas regarding China’s role in the investment community.
Judging from the headlines, you might think Chinese technology companies are on the ropes. The Justice Department has been investigating and indicting telecom giants Huawei and ZTE. Rising U.S. tariffs threaten to displace China’s dominance in the global supply chain for electronics. And Chinese internet Goliaths Alibaba Group (NYSE:BABA) and Tencent saw their market values shaved in 2018 by investor jitters over government policies and a softening economy.
"If the trade war continues to escalate as Trump has threatened, there's going to be a big impact on the capital markets... I expect that we're going to see a winter in IPOs next year."
Paul, you've gotten to this point where you've become this guru for all issues related to accounting in China. How did that journey come about?
I came to China 21 years ago. I was transferred here by the international accounting firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers. It was Price Waterhouse at the time. I was in China with them for seven years. Then I took early retirement from PwC and I tried playing golf for a while, but got bored with that. So I went back to school. I first studied theology. I enjoyed the academic side of it, so I decided to get a PhD in accounting. I chose, as my topic for my dissertation, the development of the accounting profession in China.
One of the things that I discovered in my research was that there were gaps in the regulation of Chinese companies that were starting to rush to U.S. stock exchanges in the early 2000s. Those gaps in regulation were likely to lead to an environment where there might be a lot of fraud. I predicted it would happen in my doctoral dissertation. About the time I finished it, it all came true. There were over 100 cases of fraud brought against overseas-listed Chinese companies. My work came to the attention of the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB), which asked me to serve on their standing advisory group. And also a lot of hedge funds and other market participants got interested in what I had to say.
My blog, The China Accounting Blog, got quite a bit of attention. After a while, basically, everybody who was following the China stock market was reading what I was writing. That has led to me being, probably, the leading Western expert in Chinese accounting and auditing problems for overseas -listed Chinese companies.