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State enterprises welcome investors
By Hu Yuanyuan (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-12-14 00:09

In an effort to diversify investment into State-owned enterprises, the State Council has rolled out the red carpet to domestic and foreign capital.

The goal is to attract more investors for enterprises that fall directly under the umbrella of the State Council and ultimately speed up their shareholding restructuring.

"Our efforts on central SOEs shareholding restructuring paid off in 2004," said Li Rongrong, minister of the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission (SASAC), the watchdog that acts as the State owner of the central SOEs.

"And deepening SOEs structural reform remains the highlight for the coming year."

Presently, 14 central SOEs, such as the China National Aviation Shareholding Company and Shenhua Group, have set up shareholding structures involving 120 billion yuan (US$14.5 billion) in State assets.

Profits from those 14 central SOEs are expected to top 30 billion yuan (US$3.6 billion) in 2004.

By September, there were 168 domestic companies under the control of central SOEs. Total share capital accounted for 33.8 per cent of the overall share capital among domestically listed companies.

Some 53 central SOEs were listed in Hong Kong.

"We are thinking of introducing foreign investors and co-operating with some competitive private enterprises to achieve the diversification of our shareholders," Ji Xiaonan, president of the supervisory committee of the SASAC, told China Daily in a sideline interview.

There are, however, other challenges to contend with.

"Finding more niche markets is a pressing problem for central SOEs after tariffs on more industries are further lowered in line with China's commitment to the WTO."

Equity swaps between central and local enterprises will be encouraged to deepen the shareholding restructuring in 2005. At the same time, free market schemes will be used to improve the capital structure of central SOEs, especially on electric power, telecommunications and aviation sectors.

"We are considering choosing 20 to 30 wholly owned SOEs to introduce boards of directors as pilot programmes," said Li Rongrong, "those wholly owned SOEs will be subjected to corporate law."

When the economic picture for next year is considered, Li said: "China's economy as well as that of the world will maintain a strong growing momentum in 2005, creating a good environment for central SOEs' reform. However, the depreciation of US dollar and the fluctuation of the crude oil prices on the international market is likely to create a negative impact."

Moreover, the overloaded transportation system and the shortage in the supply of coal, crude oil and electric power may create a bottleneck in SOE development.

"The State Council is expected to release guidelines encouraging, supporting and directing the private sector, rendering more help to private enterprises in terms of market access and financing," Li said, "Reforms of monopoly industries will be further deepened."

Policy-related bankruptcy of central SOEs is also expected to be sped up in 2005, he said.

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