China’s Billionaire Bubble Stands in Xi Jinping’s Way

China’s Billionaire Bubble Stands in Xi Jinping’s Way

Now that Xi Jinping officially holds the reins in Beijing, the world is asking this question: Can China’s new leader revamp an economy that may become the world’s largest during his 10-year term? Here’s an even better one: Will Beijing let him? Much is being made of how quickly Xi is replacing Hu Jintao in China’s fastest formal transfer of power in more than a generation. Although it took Hu almost two years to get all top three positions — president, Communist Party head and chairman of the military commission — Xi has them right out of the gate. The sense is that Xi has been empowered to rebalance an economy that’s producing a dangerous gap between rich and poor. That would sound more plausible if not for China’s billionaire bubble. The real big money in China isn’t in the private sector, but the public one. A March 7 Bloomberg News story dramatized the point: The ranks of the ultra-wealthy in China’s legislature swelled 20 percent this year. The list of China’s 1,000 richest people published by the Shanghai-based Hurun Report contains 90 members of the National People’s Congress. That, Bloomberg calculates, is up from 75 in 2012. It’s worth noting that everyone on the Hurun list had a fortune of at least 1.8 billion yuan ($289.4 million), more than former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

Chinese politics is proving to be a bit too lucrative for the nation’s own good. Corruption, of course, doesn’t taint every member of Beijing’s inner circle. Yet the vast financial empires being amassed by some and the lack of transparency about wealth among politicians require attention and, where needed, legal action. Xi must break this cycle. As more and more politicians get rich through questionable land grabs, insider trading and old- fashioned rent seeking, there is less incentive to retool the economy. Political will shrinks as overseas bank accounts swell. All that money sloshing around conspires to widen China’s rich- poor divide. But can Xi do it? The plot thickens when you consider Bloomberg’s June story on how Xi’s extended family accumulated a fortune estimated at $376 million. Only time will tell if history remembers Xi as China’s great reformer or the great enricher of a party that’s become communist in name only.

(William Pesek is a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow him on Twitter.)

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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