O título que o site da The Economist deu para a matéria é muito bom. Mas de fato se a China estivesse numa posição tãom confortável assim ela não estaria fazendo negócios na área de recursos naturais, mas estaria comprando bancos (ou pelo menos internacionalizando os seus bancos), indústrias que estão fragilizados pela crise. Contrariando Giovanni Arrighi continua apostando que a economia mundial não se desloca para a China, mas se integra ainda mais num novo plano. A crise atual mostrará os limites da China ainda que estes limites não sejam tão restritos quanto o de outros países.
Buyer of last resort
Feb 25th 2009
What China wants and can offer for its money
IT IS good to have money in good times, and absolutely wonderful to have it in bad. The agglomerations of state-owned companies and direct ministries that comprise China Inc have been debating what to do with their pile of cash for more than a year. After a disastrous initial decision to dribble some of it into the sinkhole of Western financial firms, China has settled on a different overseas target: natural resources.
A critical aspect of the initial wrong move was confusion over what the investments were meant to achieve. Unlike Western hedge-fund managers, the people in charge of China’s money do not directly benefit from large financial returns, nor can they easily pass on losses to outside investors. Instead, unless they can convince their superiors that the losses had a social or national benefit, they face the prospect of a lost job and withering criticism. As a result, the most recent investments are being made with at least as much concern for public policy as conventional profits.
China's recent offers for natural resources have been split between two very different kinds of firms—private companies and state-controlled entities—each of which presents a different set of challenges. Over the past three weeks, a series of big deals were announced, beginning with one of China’s large state-controlled companies, Chinalco, agreeing to purchase 18% of Rio Tinto (whose CEO, Tom Albanese, is pictured at left with his Chinalco counterpart, Xiao Yaqing) for $19.5 billion. Shortly thereafter, China Minmetals announced the outright purchase of another Australian firm, OZ Minerals, for $1.7 billion. Fortescue, yet another Australian natural-resources firm, disclosed a $558m investment from a Chinese steel mill. Discussions for further billions from China Investment Corporation, China's sovereign-wealth fund, are underway.
In each case, the companies suffered from maturing debts that required immediate cash, and had no easy sources for financing. Fortescue had many times denied having had similar conversations with Chinese companies, even as it became increasingly clear that without a deal, it was imperilled. Its share price, which had fallen from more than $12 in June 2008 to under $2 in January 2009, suddenly rose by half. Unlike Fortescue, Rio Tinto’s survival was not in doubt, but it faced an extraordinarily difficult refinancing.
China also announced no fewer than three agreements with state-controlled companies—a $25 billion deal with Russia’s Rosneft and Transneft, a $10 billion deal with Brazil’s Petrobras and a $4 billion deal with PDVSA of Venezuela. Details differ a bit in each transaction but the broad thrust is the same. Brazil has discovered a spectacular oil field off its cost, but it will be hard and expensive to exploit. Russia wants to complete a costly pipeline to China. Venezuela is a mess. Each, for whatever reason, needs money and the usual sources have dried up.
In all these cases, China’s financial resources should be welcome, but because the ends are not purely commercial, money is only one facet of a complex equation. Australia puts every foreign investment before a review board, and it is deeply concerned about China, which may not operate as a typical commercial investor trying to maximise the value of a resource, but rather as the representative of buyers who would like to do the reverse. It is in Australia's national interest for its resources to be highly valued; it is in China's national interest to find low-cost resources to feed its mills and factories. Any approval will be laden with conditions.
Deals with sovereign governments face fewer obstacles because seller and regulator are one and the same, but sticking points remain. One of the reasons Russia and Venezuela have turned to China is that other forms of capital are no longer available to them, not only because of the financial crisis, but because of their own recent expropriations of previous investments by Exxon, ConocoPhillips, and Statoil (in Venezuela’s case) and BP and Shell (in Russia’s). “There is no absolute property right for a private company in natural resources because countries claim economic sovereignty, and the right to disposes,” observes George Joffe, a professor at Cambridge University.
China understands this all too well: it expropriated the holdings of foreign energy firms shortly after its revolution in 1949. Since then it has largely blocked any outsiders from even attempting the kind of resource investments it now wants to make.
In striking state deals, however, it offers something that no private company could, and that it doubtless understands many controversial countries badly need. As a significant participant in the international community with a veto in the Security Council of the United Nations, it can provide limited political protection to embattled regimes. It has done this for Sudan, where it previously made resource investments, and it is reasonable to assume that it might do so for a similarly troubled regime in the future. It is odd to think that this, as much as its wealth, makes China a preferred buyer of last resort, but such is the state of the world. And even this advantage has its limits. If the regime that strikes the deal collapses, as embattled regimes often do, so too will the prospects for repayment.