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Don’t Enter the Dragon 中国企業に投資しても大丈夫? 本日英文掲載

 本日は、サロウィッキー氏のコラムの英文を掲載します。1/31号の誌面に掲載されています。明日和訳掲載予定です。


 題名は以下のとおり。

The Financial Page

Don’t Enter the Dragon

by James Surowiecki

January 31, 2011 



 先週、Hu Jintao(胡錦濤)氏が訪米しました。世界第2位の経済大国の最高責任者として威風堂々(pomp and circumstance)と形容されるほど堂々とした振舞いを見せました。世界第1位の経済大国アメリカから見ても、中国は非常に重要な国となったのです。万が一にも中国との関係が断たれてしまったら、、アメリカへの無尽蔵な安価な商品の供給が途絶えるわけですから、アメリカは立ち行かなくなります。中国だって、アメリカの無尽蔵な消費が無かったら困ってしまいます。




 単に物の行き来だけではありません。両国は投資分野においても密接な関係にあります。アメリカの低金利でダブついているお金は、将来性豊かな投資先として中国に流れています。それが無くなったら、アメリカのお金は行き場に困ってしまいます。
 しかし、サロウィッキー氏は、中国の企業に投資して本当に大丈夫なのか?という疑問を投げかけています。中国には、アメリカのS.E.C.のような規制する機関もないし、法律も未整備(そもそも法があってもないがしろにされることも多い)です。また、中国には明らかに最初から投資家を騙すのが目的のような企業も、平気で上場しているといいます。




 まあでも、19世紀末のアメリカの鉄道産業なんかもそんな感じだったのです(19世紀のアメリカの鉄道事業の成功にも中国人は大きく貢献している。チープレーバー=安い労働力として)。誰も儲かるなんて思わずに、投資家からお金を集めていたのです。宣伝とかで上手いこと投資家を信用させたのでお金だけは十分に集まったのです。当初の想定どおりにいけば事業は上手くいくはずは無かったのです。が、人々の予想以上の早さで技術革新が進み、市場が変化したので、事業化に成功して利益も出せたのです。だから、訳の分らない怪しい中国企業に賭けてみるのも、リスクは高いですが、全く価値の無いことでもないのです。
 詳細は明日掲載の和訳をご覧ください。



 では、以下に英文全文を掲載します。「続きを読む」をクリックして下さい。

The Financial Page

Don’t Enter the Dragon

by James Surowiecki

January 31, 2011 


 The pomp and circumstance of Hu Jintao’s state visit last week was a testament to just how integrated the Chinese and American economies have become. China, it seems, has an inexhaustible capacity for making stuff, and Americans, even now, have an inexhaustible capacity for buying it: sneakers, TVs, pet food, and, more recently, investments. American investors keen to cash in on the China boom have poured money not just into well-established giants like China Telecom and C.N.O.O.C. but also into more speculative “small-cap” companies, hundreds of which now trade on U.S. stock exchanges. The problem is that, while some of these firms are indeed thriving enterprises, more than a few seem to be specialists in a less savory business: ripping off investors.


 Take, for instance, two of the hottest Chinese stocks of 2009: RINO International, a maker of “environmental-protection equipment,” and the jewelry maker Fuqi. At one point in 2009, these companies were Nos. 1 and 2 on the Investor’s Business Daily 100. But last March Fuqi announced that it had overstated earnings for the first three quarters of 2009 and would have to re-state its earnings. Ten months later, the company hasn’t filed a single new earnings statement, so no one knows how much it has made (or lost) in the past two years. The stock is down more than eighty per cent from its peak. As for RINO, last November a short seller issued a report that blasted its accounting as fraudulent and effectively suggested that the entire company was a house of cards. After initially saying nothing, RINO admitted in an S.E.C. filing that two of its manufacturing contracts didn’t actually exist, and that its financial statements couldn’t be relied on. When the company failed to disclose more information, it was delisted from Nasdaq. Its stock has fallen ninety per cent from its all-time high.


 A lack of transparency and a disregard for accounting regulations are all too common among U.S.-listed Chinese firms, and the S.E.C. is reportedly conducting, belatedly, an investigation into such stocks. Companies have been known to report one set of revenue numbers to the S.E.C. and another to Chinese authorities (perhaps to minimize tax bills). A company’s suppliers or partners often turn out to be owned or controlled by the company’s own managers, a practice that lends itself to “tunnelling”—using outside businesses to milk the corporation. Another problem is executives who treat their companies as personal A.T.M.s: RINO lent its C.E.O. and its chairwoman (a married couple) $3.5 million, and didn’t even ask for a signed loan document in exchange.


 The U.S. has an entire regulatory apparatus designed to protect the interests of investors, but Chinese companies have been adept at exploiting its loopholes. Using a tactic known as a reverse merger, hundreds of Chinese companies have bought American shell companies, which have a stock-exchange listing but few actual assets. A quick name change, and, presto, the Chinese company is traded on Nasdaq or the Amex. This gives Chinese firms the credibility of being listed on a major exchange without any of the vetting from investors that companies get when they go public. And once you’re on an exchange it takes a lot to be kicked off. Even though Fuqi hasn’t filed financial statements for almost a year, a Nasdaq panel recently gave it until March to do so.

 

 As for the audits of these companies, it’s hard to know what they’re worth. According to a report by the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board, some U.S. auditors outsource their work to unsupervised Chinese auditors, or sign off on audits without ever sending anyone to China. In many cases, “auditing” probably amounts to little more than rubber-stamping a company’s reported results. It’s often assumed that concern for reputation will make auditors sniff out fraud and chicanery. But, as the Enron scandal demonstrated, reputation often matters less than short-term gain, and it also cuts both ways: turning a blind eye to questionable numbers can be a good way to get new business. It’s no surprise that a number of the companies tarred by allegations of dubious accounting share the same auditors.


 Given all these problems, you might think that small Chinese companies would be having a hard time raising money. But though bad publicity has made investors more skittish, the number of reverse mergers actually rose last year, by twenty-five per cent, and small-cap Chinese stocks are still collectively worth billions. The reason is simple enough: nowhere else seems to offer the hopes of getting rich quickly that China does. This is a familiar pattern, and, indeed, investors in small Chinese stocks today are very much like the foreigners who poured money into U.S. railroads in the nineteenth century. Then investors anxious to cash in on the railway boom proved to be easy targets for self-dealers and outright swindlers, and foreigners in particular struggled to get good information about what was happening to their investments. A British emissary to a U.S. company in the eighteen-nineties, describing his futile effort to glean information from the company’s directors, used terms that sound painfully familiar: “It has been most demoralizing.” Yet, because the railways offered—and sometimes delivered—the prospect of enormous wealth, the money kept flowing. Today, the same is true. China’s boom is real enough, and so it’s possible for investors in small Chinese stocks to believe that they’re heeding Deng Xiaoping’s famous admonition “To get rich is glorious.” Unfortunately, many of them are just proving the truth of another famous adage: “There’s a sucker born every minute.” 

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