“American securities firms have been hit by the financial crisis much more seriously than the Europeans,” says a mainland Chinese banker in Beijing. “The government really wants to wait and see what would be the real impact on these American firms. That’s why they haven’t got new licences in the last one to two years.”
Morgan Stanley is in a better state, but that group has its own complication: it is understood to have acknowledged that it will have to sell its long-standing stake in CICC before its proposed venture with China Fortune will be approved. This is hardly the time to make such a sale, although it is understood that this in itself is not holding things up today: instead, the bank is likely to be notified when an approval is close and told to get on with a sale.
The weak point in this theory is JP Morgan, which most observers would see in a similar light to the Europeans – bruised but clearly able to keep going. However, it is understood the JP Morgan negotiations are less well advanced than, for example, those between Citi and Central China Securities. This had been expected to be the next venture to be approved; if instead the next one turns out to be Macquarie, the Americans really will have good reason to be paranoid.
But perhaps we read too much into it. Asked why he thought Credit Suisse was the first licence to be awarded after the moratorium, Zhang Liping says: “We are lucky. We engaged in real negotiation and partnership with Founder, completed our search, submitted our application to CSRC and perhaps completed things faster than our competitors. But it’s purely luck in terms of timing.”