Home / World Business
Mon, Oct 15, 2007 - Page 10 News List

Europe fears sovereign funds' clout

PROTECTIONISM Germany and France are worried that funds such as China's CIC might be making purchases based on political strategies as well as business reasons


The increasing clout of state-run investment funds is causing concern in European countries, where policymakers are anxious to protect industry and strategic assets from foreign takeovers.

According to a study by Morgan Stanley, these so-called sovereign wealth funds, which mainly come from emerging nations like China, Russia and oil-exporting countries, have US$2,800 billion in assets and are multiplying their acquisitions and spectacular shareholdings.

In a case in point, Qatar Holding and Dubai Borse, a public holding, have just bought 24 and 28 percent respectively of the London Stock Exchange and are currently in a battle to take control of the Nordic stock exchange operator OMX.

Dubai has formed an alliance with NASDAQ, of which it already owns nearly 20 percent.

Earlier this year, Dubai government investment funds launched an offensive to snap up shares in big names like MGM Mirage casinos, aerospace giant EADS and the Barneys department stores.

And China has also set up an investment fund, the CIC, to manage US$200 billion of its US$1,400 billion of reserves, the biggest in the world.

Even before being formally set up, the CIC had already punched its weight, taking a shareholding of 2 billion euros (US$2.8 billion) in the US investment fund Blackstone.

The rise in the price of raw materials has resulted in a boom in the revenues of producer countries and sovereign wealth funds are therefore expected to multiply. Morgan Stanley expects that they will have US$12,000 billion of assets in 2015.

This has caused concern in Western countries with German Chancellor Angela Merkel saying in July that the power of the funds had reached "hitherto unknown dimensions."

She said that the government was "looking at mechanisms ... both on a European and German level" to deal with the influence of the funds.

The French senate's finance committee is also drawing up a report, its president Jean Arthuis said, underlining that "a certain number of industrial jewels risk coming under their control," he said.

The consultancy McKinsey believes that the abundance of cash for investment has generated an increase in the prices of the some assets, but it has also contributed to low long-term interest rates.

The consultancy points out that while the funds have so far obeyed strict economic criteria for their investments, political motivations could disturb the functioning of the markets.

"Do they act according to prudent management principles or according to political strategies that could end up in forms of ... economic wars," Arthuis said, echoing Merkel's concerns.

Without seeking to ban these funds from making purchases, the German chancellor has asked for a principle of reciprocity in market access.

"The real danger is that sovereign wealth funds ... may encourage capital account protectionism, through which countries pick and choose who can invest in what," said Simon Johnson, economic counsellor and director of the IMF's research department.

Luca Silippo, an economist at investment bank Natixis, said there would be nothing surprising in a protectionist reaction.

"I see nothing scandalous in protecting strategic sectors and that has always happened," he said.

"What is new is that countries that we have the habit of considering emerging are now pressuring to buy," he said.

This story has been viewed 2272 times.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top