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R&F’s Angola mine, Cambodia project snared by China’s capital controls

Many Chinese companies’ overseas acquisitions are paralysed by government’s crackdown on capital remittances.

PUBLISHED : Monday, 13 March, 2017, 6:31pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 14 March, 2017, 4:28pm

Property developer R&F Properties is calling on the authorities in China to make a special case for its investment in Africa and Southeast Asia, as the lengthy and unpredictable approval process for moving money overseas may be jeopardising their international projects.

“We applied for US$1 billion worth of overseas investment quota to the state foreign exchange authority more than two months ago, but have not yet received approval,” Zhang Li, founder and co-chairman of Hong Kong-listed R&F Properties told the South China Morning Postin Beijing on Sunday.

The most urgent projects included the acquisition of a chromium mine in Angola, and a residential and agricultural development programme in Cambodia, Zhang said.

He said the agreements would be affected if payments could not be made on time.

“Luckily our offshore fundraising channels still have some capital in reserve,” Zhang added, without clarifying if the amount is sufficient.

The developer has a market cap of about HK$39.1 billion, and outstanding total debt of 46.6 billion yuan (US$6.7 billion), according to Bloomberg data. Zhang said his company had no plans to buy land in Hong Kong, as prices were too high.

The conflicting policies are hurting business confidence
Shaun Rein, China Market Research Group

During an earlier panel discussion at the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, China’s top political advisory body, Zhang put forward suggestions that the authority should make special cases of “big and good overseas projects”, particularly those in accordance with national moves, like the “One Belt, One Road” initiative.

“Current capital controls are too tight ... we will repatriate the money back to China if we make a profit outside,” he said.

To swap yuan into foreign currency and fund outbound investment, Chinese companies need the approval of the State Administration of Foreign Exchange (SAFE).

But Beijing has adopted tougher rules on overseas investment applications since late last year, as the sharp depreciation of the yuan accelerated capital outflows, draining the country’s foreign reserves.

As of early March, Chinese companies have announced US$19 billion of acquisitions abroad, a 74 per cent drop on a year ago, according to Bloomberg data.

“The Chinese government is sending conflicting signals to businessmen,” said Shaun Rein, the managing director of China Market Research Group.

“On the one hand, it wants Chinese companies to become global players and help build the belt and road initiative, yet at the same time the government is stopping companies from converting yuan into foreign currency. The conflicting policies are hurting business confidence,” Rein said.

“China needs to decide whether it wants to lead and be part of the international economic system and fill the power gap left by a protectionist America under Trump or if it will let short-term fears of capital outflows destroy what should be a multi-decade initiative to create power and economic well being for China,” he said.

Although the People’s Daily and Xinhua have continued to trumpet the belt and road initiative, some voices are still questioning the necessity for promoting large-scale capital export at a time when China is struggling with economic transformation and facing complicated external conditions that deeply affect the monetary and currency situation.

“I do not see much benefit brought by companies going global – state-owned enterprises have a hard time doing well even inside China, while private companies tend to flee with their money once they get out of China,” said Yu Yongding, an economist and a former adviser to the People’s Bank of China on the sidelines of the two sessions meeting in Beijing last week.

Additional reporting by Eric Ng

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