Shanghai's Disney park major beneficiary of HK$314b Agbank loan
Shanghai's Disneyland will benefit from some of the HK$314b Agbank loan to help the city make the most of its impending free-trade zone status
George Chen and Jane Cai in Beijing
The Agricultural Bank of China has just sprinkled a lot of magic over Shanghai in the form of a huge loan, and the beneficiaries will include Mickey and Minnie and friends.
Agbank, one of the Big Four state lenders, has signed an agreement with the city government for a 250 billion yuan (HK$314 billion) loan - equivalent to 12.5 per cent of Shanghai's GDP last year.
The loan will help fund the government-controlled joint venture that is building China's second Disneyland and pay for improvements needed to implement the city's much-heralded free-trade zone.
Senior government officials insist the loan does not mean Beijing will launch a nationwide economic stimulus package - as it did in 2008 - to ensure the world's second-biggest economy grows 7.5 per cent this year, the target agreed by leaders, including President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang earlier this year.
But the sources said Beijing did not rule out so-called "unofficial economic stimulus" to help key cities and provinces like Shanghai boost local economic growth.
Other banks may quickly copy Agbank's huge loan plan for Shanghai and support other areas such as Guangdong province, where the export industry has been badly hit, the sources say.
Shanghai Mayor Yang Xiong and Agbank chairman Jiang Chaoliang signed the loan deal in Shanghai last Tuesday.
In late 2008, Beijing announced a landmark 4 trillion yuan economic stimulus package to help keep the economy growing amid the meltdown in the West. It also announced a 10 trillion yuan loan expansion.
But the stimulus package has been roundly criticised by scholars and even senior officials. Leading economist Wu Jinglian described it as "ridiculous", as most of the money went to state-owned enterprises and big national infrastructure projects rather than helping private small and medium-sized companies, which often struggle to secure funding.
Although SMEs make up more than 60 per cent of the mainland's GDP and are a major source of jobs, the state-owned behemoths poured much of the extra money into real estate, creating asset bubbles and stoking public discontent about rising property prices.
Five years on, the economy is weakening across the board, with even the previously robust retail and services sectors enduring shrinking revenue growth.
According to an internal government memo, Agbank said it wanted to take a leading role in a new round of economic reforms in Shanghai and help upgrade the city's infrastructure.
Agbank would support "the construction of key international tourism and resort projects in Shanghai, in particular the Disneyland project" and it would also "play an active role in the construction of the Shanghai free-trade zone", the memo says.
Shanghai is facing economic challenges at home and abroad. Last year, its GDP growth was 7.5 per cent, behind the national rate of 7.8 per cent.
On July 3, Beijing announced it would build the mainland's first Hong Kong-style free-trade zone in Shanghai, which Premier Li described as a snapshot of an "upgraded Chinese economy".
Shanghai announced in 2009 that it would host the mainland's first Disneyland theme park after years of speculation. It will be built in several phases, eventually being bigger than Hong Kong Disneyland.
The Hong Kong theme park, majority owned by the city government, has struggled since it opened more than seven years ago and lost money until last year, though a series of recent expansions has led to hope of a turnaround.
Like the Hong Kong park, the Shanghai development will be managed by a joint venture between the local government, which will own the project, and Disney. As well as funding construction, the loan is expected to help fund public transport and infrastructure improvements.
The Shanghai park is due to open in 2015, setting the stage for an intriguing battle between Hong Kong and Shanghai on the tourist front that may parallel their tussle for the status of China's leading financial sector.
Beijing has declared its ambition to make Shanghai one of the world's top three financial centres by 2020, putting it on a par with New York and London.
Last Monday, the South China Morning Post reported that Beijing had delayed the announcement of rules for Shanghai's free-trade zone as lawyers worked to close potential legal loopholes.
But a source said Premier Li was still keen to launch the zone "as soon as possible", so he personally supported loan arrangements like the one by Agbank to help the city get it started.
The Shanghai free-trade zone is expected to be a testing ground for major policy reforms, including the liberalisation of interest rates and foreign exchange rates.
The key man behind the loan deal is Agbank chairman Jiang Chaoliang, who has close ties with top leaders in Shanghai from his days as chairman of the Bank of Communications, the Shanghai-based lender partly owned by HSBC.
It is considered rare for one bank to offer such massive loans to one party, even a local government. More commonly, banks form syndicates so they can bear the risks together.
Meanwhile, the Shanghai government is lobbying Agbank to set up a so-called "second head office" in Shanghai as part of the city's ambition to be a global financial centre. So far, Agbank has set up about 10 key departments in Shanghai, including its national data centre, credit centre and the head office of its private banking business.