Lai See

The dark economic thoughts of Charlene Chu

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 February, 2014, 5:37am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 February, 2014, 6:25am

Charlene Chu, a former senior director and head of China financial institutions at the ratings agency Fitch, has been talking to Britain's Telegraph about why she feels that China is on the verge of a crisis.

Chu left Fitch last year and will join US-based Autonomous Research later this year. She maintains that a banking crisis in China is not just an outside chance but a certainty. "The banking sector has extended US$14 trillion to US$15 trillion in the span of five years. There's no way that we are not going to have massive problems in China," she told the newspaper.

Her warnings have appeared particularly prescient in recent weeks with the concerns over how ICBC would resolve a 3 billion yuan (HK$3.8 billion) trust it had sold to its customers. Chu disagrees with mainland economists and academics who say the shadow banking sector and the formal banking sector are separate, and that therefore shadow banking sector does not pose a threat.

Interestingly, she feels the mainland's crisis will play out differently than in the West, where market forces have greater influence. It is post-crisis China that concerns her as she believes the main problem will not be the difficulties in bailing out the financial sector but how the country and the people deal with the inevitable slowdown in growth. "It comes down to how much of a hit does growth take and what is the impact of that on the populace and do we start to have any other issues that arise from that?" Now there's a dark thought for us all.


Stress is not wholly good

Stress is apparently ranked the number one lifestyle risk factor in the Asia-Pacific region. According to a survey by US professional services company Towers Watson, stress is ranked above physical inactivity and obesity by employers in the Asia-Pacific with the exception of mainland China where it is ranked second. That said, it will come as no surprise, at least to employees, that only 33 per cent of companies in the region think that improving the emotional/mental health of employees is a priority when developing health and productivity programmes. But this is considerably higher than in the US where only 15 per cent of firms consider it a priority.

"While stress can energise workers to meet challenging goals, it can also overwhelm them and interrupt business performance." said Rajeshree Parekh, Towers Watson's Asia-Pacific director for global health and group benefits. "Stress has a strong link to physical health, emotional health, personal purpose and community - all contributing factors to workplace performance. But when employers do not fully recognise what causes stress, they risk diverting time and resources to fixing the wrong problems and, at the same time, alienating employees."


Hell has no fury…

It has to be said that Cheung Mei-yin is a very determined woman. In June 2007, she applied for leave to apply for a judicial review in the High Court over a decision by the postmaster general. When that was refused, she appealed against the decision in July 2008. This was also rejected. She then let the matter drop for five years before she turned to the Court of Final Appeal in June last year. This was heard last week and yet again rejected.

You may be wondering what it was that caused her to go to such lengths and expense. People may recall that prior to the handover, the postmaster general announced through the Government Gazette that people holding colonial stamps should redeem them since they would be replaced with new SAR stamps after the handover.

Cheung held colonial-era stamps amounting to all of HK$300. She said she was unaware of this until 2007, by which time the judge hearing her initial bid observed that her application was "hopelessly late". In the latest ruling, the judges note, "For an application for leave to apply for judicial review, which is itself seriously out of time, this is rather remarkable." The new judgment noted Cheung revived her legal struggle after the outcome of another case, which she said showed the liberal attitude of the Court of Final Appeal.

The judgment noted, "It is again remarkable that this could seriously be put forward by counsel for the applicant as an explanation for the long delay." Then again you wonder why they didn't have a whip-round at the Post Office and just give her the money.


Have you got any stories that Lai See should know about? E-mail them to howard.winn@scmp