After spending more than $16bn on Asian acquisitions in the past decade, China’s banks still have a long way to go before their regional forays start to have a meaningful impact on earnings.
Only 9.1% of Asian companies outside China currently have working relationships with the nation’s top banks for cash management, according to a survey of 848 corporates by research firm East & Partners. Some 14.4% work with the Chinese lenders for trade finance, the survey showed. Given it was a first-time study, the firm had no comparable historical data.
“Definitely, it’s disappointing,” said Jonathan Chng, a senior analyst at East & Partners in Singapore. “They have spent so much money trying to penetrate the overseas market and to expand into non-Chinese corporate customers, but the result is still not very favourable to them.”
While China is already the biggest trading partner for Asian countries from India to Japan, mainland banks have struggled to compete with the wider range of products long-established rivals in the region such as HSBC Holdings and Standard Chartered offer to customers.
The state-owned lenders’ overseas plans - initially intended to support the global use of the yuan and the financing of Chinese infrastructure projects offshore - have taken on greater significance as a weaker economy and rising soured debt hobbles profit growth at home.
Growing use of the yuan in international business seems to have some bearing on how Asian companies engage with Chinese banks.
Some 28.7% of the firms in the East & Partners survey had a working relationship with the lenders for foreign exchange, the biggest connection to mainland banks. Just over 17% had banking relationships for investment services, rounding out the four business areas covered by the survey.
The more than $16bn of Asian acquisitions by Chinese lenders in the past 10 years includes Industrial & Commercial Bank of China’s purchase of Bank Halim Indonesia, which was completed in 2007, data compiled by Bloomberg show. More recently, China Construction Bank Corp took a controlling stake in Indonesia’s PT Bank Windu Kentjana International late last year, while China Minsheng Banking Corp won approval earlier this month to buy Quam, a Hong Kong-based brokerage and financial-services provider.
ICBC doesn’t provide a breakdown of its Asian profits. Its interim report showed that its overseas business accounted for 6.6% of operating income in the first half of 2015, up from 2.3% in 2006, before its Bank Halim acquisition.
China Construction Bank (CCB), China’s second-largest bank by assets, is seeking to expand its network to about 40 countries from 24 and increase the overseas contribution of pretax profit to 5% by 2020, according to Chairman Wang Hongzhang.
The overseas business only accounted for 1.79% of the firm’s pretax profit in the first half of 2015, up from 0.83% in 2006, exchange filings show.
“We are accelerating the pace to internationalise and to provide global financial services,” CCB’s Wang said in Hong Kong in October. “We are taking the opportunity of companies expanding overseas and the renminbi internationalisation to strengthen our global competitive position.”
Operations outside mainland China contributed 3.2% of Agricultural Bank of China’s total operating income in the first half of last year, and 23% of Bank of China’s pretax income. Bank of China’s Hong Kong unit is the city’s top mortgage lender.
Press officials at ICBC and Bank of China declined to comment, while those at CCB and Agricultural Bank didn’t immediately respond to phone calls.
Concerns over deteriorating asset quality as the country’s economy slows had dragged shares of the four banks down by an average 15% in Hong Kong this year to Thursday. Bank of China fell 0.7% on Friday, leading declines among the four lenders.
“In China, although the market is very big, there are a lot more opportunities overseas,” Chng said. Chinese banks “still have a lot of work to do in order to be on the same level as international banks.”
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