Monday, September 5, 2011

Chinese companies and the ownership problem

Top 500 Chinese companies reported profits of 2.08 trillion yuan. Most of these are State-Owned. This post looks at how these big 5 Chinese enterprises that make the Great Economic Dragon create a barrier that ends up isolating them. 

The growth of Chinese economy in the last decade has been phenomenal. It is expected that in the coming time, the Chinese market will overthrow the United States to become the world's biggest market. The economic might added with military might does should give its democratic neighbours such as India sleepless nights. But I am not here to croon about it. The winning Chinese economic dragon has been playing its battles on a biased field set by its primary owners - The Chinese government.
The recent Xinhua summarizes the list of top 500 Chinese firms, with the Sinopec Group leading the pack. Sinopec Group or China Petrochemical Corporation is Asia's largest oil refining and petrochemical enterprise, administered by SASAC for the State Council of the People's Republic of China. Its top 5 companies are state owned. The list of top 500 Chinese companies is important because they contribute about 78% of their GDP. Their top 5 firms according to some sources are as follows
  1. Sinopec
  2. China National Petroleum Corporation
  3. State Grid Corporation of China
  4. Industrial and Commercial Bank of China
  5. China Mobile
(All the above firms are state-owned) 
State ownership does not guarantee success. We have seen that in the case of India, state owned entities have performed miserably (Is it because of democracy? Can't Say). But Chinese state owned firms have left their mark. Here are some of their achievements.
China Mobile is the most valuable mobile telecommunications company in the world. It is listed on both the NYSE and the Hong Kong stock exchange. As of March 2011, China Mobile is the world's largest mobile phone operator with over 600 million subscribers
Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) ranked number 7 (in 2011) on Forbes Global 2000 list of worlds biggest public companies
State Grid Corporation of China (SGCC) was ranked eighth in the 2010 Fortune Global 500 list of the world's largest companies by revenue and has moved one place up in the 2011 Fortune Global 500 list.
China National Petroleum Corporation  is the second highest evaluated company in the world in terms of market capitalization as of June 2010. Its annual revenue in 2009 was close to $165 Billion.
Sinopec ranked as the 5th largest company (in 2011) in sales in Forbes Global 2000 list.Its annual revenue in 2009 was close to $200 Billion.
State ownership has FIVE Big Problems
  1. It constraints the ability of these big Chinese enterprises to pursue overseas acquisitions, especially in the US, as Japanese enterprises did in the 1980s.
  2. State-ownership comes with tight government regulation that turns each of these behemoths into monopolies giving them the leverage to enjoy unusually massive profits.
  3. High profitability of these enterprises thus internally exerts little pressure on these enterprises to invest in their product development, process improvisation and brand. It is contrary to what Japanese firms (largely private) did in the 1980s.
  4. The tight regulations also restrict  foreign firms from entering Chinese markets and make a profitable collaboration with these big enterprises.
  5. This collaboration barrier prevents knowledge transfer from both of these firms thus constraining innovation on both frontiers.
  6. Overall these factors limit their ability to enhance overall reputation in global markets.