Tuesday, May 22, 2007

China and Private Equity

History, as we know, does not actually repeat itself, but there are often interesting parallels that can be drawn.

A huge shift in global capital flows is forecast after the Chinese government's acquisition of a $3bn (£1.5bn) stake in the sprawling US private equity group Blackstone, owner of Café Rouge restaurants, Madame Tussauds and Center Parcs.

The purchase, though substantial in its own right, is likely to be only the starting point of a $200bn foray into world stock markets and private companies by the communist government in Beijing.

China has the world's biggest foreign exchange reserves, worth $1.3 trillion and growing by $1m a minute. Until now, most of this has been invested in safe but low-yield US treasury bonds. With the dollar slipping in value, policymakers in Beijing are diversifying into riskier but potentially higher-return private equity.

You see, something very similar happened back in the late 80s early 90s. Then it was Japan that had all the money: the gardens of the Imperial Palace in Tokyo were valued as being worth more than all of London. So various Japanese investors started buying those oh so cheap US assets: the Rockefeller Center, various Hollywood studios etc.

They found out the hard way that they had grossly overpaid. Will the same thing happen this time?

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