Following a recent trip to Shanghai as a guest speaker at the annual Australia China Business Forum, Think Global CEO, David Thomas explains why China’s 12th Five-Year Plan and its focus on outbound investment is a game-changer for Australia.
China’s “Going Out” strategy and the new priorities outlined in the current 12th Five-Year Plan, create unprecedented interest in Australia amongst Chinese SOEs, business leaders, entrepreneurs and high net worth investors. After 30 years of achieving “growth at any cost” (driven by low cost labour, exports and infrastructure development) China is now attempting to transform itself into a modern, innovative and clean economy which is largely propelled by domestic consumption. The current five-year plan sets a clear direction for China’s growth into the future, which, as we are often reminded, is “modernising” rather than “westernising”.
The 12th Five-Year Plan identifies three key priorities for China – “Going Out”, “Going West” and “Going Green”, all of which create opportunities for Australia.
China’s outbound foreign direct investment exceeded foreign inbound investment for the first time in 2012, growing from US$60.1bn in 2011 to US$77.2bn in 2012.
However, despite political and media concerns in Australia, China actually represents less than 5 percent of our total foreign direct investment, trailing far behind our largest foreign investors, the US, Europe and New Zealand, and most of this investment has been in one sector: mining, commodities and resources.
Nevertheless, many large companies and entrepreneurs in China have an explicit and well-documented ‘Going Out’ strategy and their focus is targeted at new sectors.
So what are the drivers for this investment, which sectors and industries are being targeted and how can Australian businesses position themselves for these new opportunities?
China has over one million millionaires and close to 200 billionaires, and being a high savings economy with a rising middle class, more and more high net worth individuals or capital rich companies are now looking to international markets for new investment opportunities. Whilst Australia is well positioned to capitalise on this “Going Out” strategy, the extent to which Australian companies will be seen as a destination for Chinese investors depends largely on our ability to engage with, and tailor opportunities for the China market. Australia is currently the number one destination for Chinese outbound investment based on transactions conducted over the past decade (over A$65 billion invested into our resources sector) and is now well placed to attract investment into our food and agricultural sector, as Chinese investors tackle their next strategic imperative (after energy security) which is to ensure safe, sustainable and secure supplies of nutritious and high quality food for their large population.
While no overarching generalisation can be made with regards to the nature and reasons for investing overseas, there are three main drivers of outbound Chinese investment:
China’s “Going Out” strategy is driven by two main objectives: to reduce their exposure to the US dollar by investing in real corporate assets in other countries, and to make strategic investments into new modern industries.
China has USD$3.31trillion in foreign reserves, approximately 54 percent of which are in US dollar holdings, notably US Treasury Bonds. China has been steadily reducing its US dollar holdings from 74 percent in 2006, to 65 percent in 2010 to the current holding of 54 percent. Despite this reduction in US dollar holdings, the Chinese Government is still encouraging both state-owned and private companies to diversify their assets and operations overseas and to thereby reduce the country’s exposure to the US dollar.
At the same time, the Chinese Government has directed these companies to make strategic investments overseas, and to invest in industries that enhance and develop China’s own capabilities. Industries identified in the current Five Year Plan as being of particular significance to China include: Education, Healthcare, Technology, Clean Energy, Tourism and Financial Services. Australia has proven expertise, innovation and capabilities in all of these areas and this represents significant opportunities for companies who position themselves for this wave of new investment potential.
Many wealthy Chinese entrepreneurs and high net worth individuals are becoming increasingly interested in migrating to Australia to satisfy a number of long-term objectives for themselves and their families – retirement, succession and long-term quality of life. At the same time, the Australian Government is encouraging high net worth individuals to apply for permanent residence under the new “Significant Investor Visa” category which is designed to attract investment into Government Bonds, Complying Managed Funds and Australian Private Companies.
With over 150,000 Chinese students now being educated in Australian Universities, and wealthy Chinese entrepreneurs looking to diversify their business interests and developing a succession plan for their children and future generations, Australia is well placed to attract private investment from those looking to adopt a “one foot in, one foot out” policy between China and Australia.
Many Chinese companies have achieved extraordinary growth in their domestic markets over the past decade but are reaching the point where future double-digit growth can only come from expanding overseas. By investing in or acquiring international businesses, Chinese companies are able to gain access to a global customer base, tap into new sources of product development, innovation and knowledge, and generate new revenue and profits from overseas.
Although the longer term plan for Chinese entrepreneurs and companies may be to acquire US firms and list on Wall Street, Australia is an important stepping stone in their journey to building a truly global business. Australia offers access to mature and sophisticated markets, a regulatory regime which demands high standards of corporate governance and transparency, and an opportunity to manage their brand, people and products in a relatively friendly and open environment. Good examples of Chinese companies already operating successfully in Australia include Huawei, Haier, China Southern, Kingold, HNA Group and the major big four banks.
The Australia-China investment story is only just beginning. Australia’s reputation for quality, consistency and reliability, together with our high quality of life and multi-cultural population, underpins the attractiveness of Australia as a target for outbound Chinese investment. The Chinese are already investing in Australia and plan to do more. This is a potential game-changer for Australian entrepreneurs, business leaders and politicians. ■
*David Thomas facilitates business and investment between Asia and Australia. He works with individuals, entrepreneurs, companies and institutions to build viable, sustainable and powerful connections by leveraging his networks and relationships in both developed and emerging countries. More information at www.davidthomas.asia