The Chinese economy was showing signs of a slowdown even before the COVID-19 contagion spread around the country and internationally. The World Bank, in its October 2019 global economic growth forecast, projected that China’s GDP increase would moderate to 5.9 per cent this year from 6.1 per cent in 2019. A 5.9 per cent gain would be the lowest rate of increase in the last 29 years, since Q1 of 1992.
Expectations for the country’s 2020 GDP growth decreased dramatically in February as the negative impacts from the coronavirus became clearer. According to Bloomberg: “Economists have repeatedly marked down their growth forecasts on the slow resumption of business. The median forecast for year-on-year growth in the first quarter is 4.0 per cent, the weakest in 30 years,…according to a February survey”.
Major reasons for China’s economic weakness in the first quarter, tied to the coronavirus, included contraction of industrial production and the slowdown in retail sales, as well as a significant decrease in construction and infrastructure investment. The damage to construction activities came to a large extent from the strict quarantine measures introduced by the Chinese government that restricted the movement of migrant workers and limited the progress of construction projects.
In addition, the overall decrease in domestic consumption, as well as in industrial production, are likely to result in a future contraction in capital expenditures by many companies, leading to pressure on ongoing and future demand for construction.
Historically, the Chinese government has reacted to economic problems by providing stimulus through monetary policy easing as well as an increase in infrastructure investment. During the Asian financial crisis, every year from 1998 until 2002 the Chinese government issued RMB 100 billions of special treasury bonds in order to support investments in roads, railways, telecommunications facilities, power generation projects, etc.
During the 2008 global financial crisis, the government of China took a similar, but even more vigorous, approach and introduced an economic stimulus of RMB 4 trillion, with the biggest share of the funding (RMB 1.5 trillion) directed towards irrigation, airport, railway, road and other infrastructure developments.
History seems to be repeating itself today as, in the first two months of this year, local Chinese governments, have already issued projects-related special infrastructure bonds for RMB 950 billion. The 2020 annual limit for new infrastructure bonds amounts to RMB 3 trillion.
The Asia Times news portal reports that as of the beginning of March: “13 major cities and provinces, including Beijing, Shanghai and Fujian province, released investment plans and “major infrastructure” projects for 2020. Eight cities and provinces announced their investment budgets, which in total amount to 33.83 trillion yuan (US$4.8 trillion). Another eight provinces said they would invest up to 2.79 trillion yuan in total, although they have yet to announce their plans.
The strategic allocation of the new infrastructure investment this time will be noticeably different from the previous economic crises, as most of it will be channelled towards the high-tech industry. Out of 25 regions that are indicating new infrastructure projects, 21 are planning to develop 5G networks, according to the Xinhua news agency.
These new investments and development plans come on top of the 26 infrastructure projects approved last year for construction in 2020 and beyond, with the top 10 projects costing over RMB 40 billion each. The overall investment in the approved projects amounts to approximately RMB 982 billion.
China’s government has also identified the need for a more selective approach towards the new infrastructure investment, with higher return requirements due to weakening exports and dipping real estate investments. The need for higher returns on government-approved infrastructure investment also explains the recent switch towards high-tech projects that are likely to be more profitable than the traditional bricks and mortar investments.
The outbreak of COVID-19 also has the potential to increase pressure on investment in China’s international projects developed under the Belt and Road initiative. During these times of economic difficulty, the country is more likely to direct its resources towards improvement of its domestic economy, rather than investing in international projects.
Continued optimism for Chinese investment into Luxembourg in post-Covid times – International Financial Law Review
Since the first opening of the overseas subsidiary of Bank of China in Luxembourg in 1979, the Grand Duchy has become a gateway to the EU for Chinese financial institutions and more generally has been brought into the sight of Chinese investors as the subsidiary of Bank of China in Luxembourg and the EU hubs of other Chinese banks which have been set up in Luxembourg in a later stage serve China-based investors that wish to invest in Europe.
The overseas subsidiaries of the Chinese banks have also expanded into capital market activities in Europe alongside asset and wealth management, and are actively involved in financing M&A deals which are originated by Chinese investors.
In 2011, the Luxembourg Stock Exchange (LuxSE) listed the first offshore RMB bonds, better known as Dim Sum bonds, issued in Europe. Since then the exchange between China and Luxembourg has experienced rapid growth, which led to fact that when Chinese investors plan to list renminbi (RMB) bonds in continental Europe today, the LuxSE is a natural choice.
Luxembourg is a pre-eminent hub within the EU for financial services activity connected to the Chinese market, and it is well positioned to act as a bridge into the RMB investment pool; as it has been doing for many years.
According to the OECD data, global foreign direct investment (FDI) flows dropped to $846 billion which corresponds to a decrease of 38% in 2020, the lowest level since 2005, as a consequence of the Covid-19 situation. The Covid-19 pandemic also posed several challenges to the economy of Luxembourg. In order to respond to the financial disadvantages caused by the Covid-19, the Luxembourg government established a financial support scheme for the companies which are in temporary financial difficulty, and implicated a series of tax measures to support companies with regards to direct and indirect tax payments. Investments in Luxembourg dropped considerably until mid-2020 alongside a global slowdown due to Brexit and the Covid-19 crisis. Recovery could be observed with a slow, but stable pace in the second half of 2020.
However, domestic constraints on Chinese outbound capital flows and tightening scrutiny of Chinese investments abroad have not helped the recovery of Chinese investment in Europe and Luxembourg after Covid-19 crisis. The lack of a recovery is also likely linked to China’s adherence to a zero-Covid strategy, which hindered cross-border travel and thus deal-making activities.
Regulations of investing
On December 30 2020, the EU and China reached an agreement in principle on the EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI), which places an emphasis on providing access to the Chinese market for European investors.
Both sides have been continuing separate negotiations on investment protection to be completed within two years of the signature of the agreement, and on March 12 2021 the European Commission published the schedules of commitments agreed under the CAI. Ensuring fair treatment for EU companies in the Chinese market and enabling more cross-border deals between the EU and China, the CAI shall support a better balance in the EU–China trade relationship. The framework is likely to also play a key role in helping the Luxembourg and EU markets to recover.
However, the ratification of the agreement might face problems with the EU sanctions on China enforced in March 2021 over concerns about the human rights situation in Xinjiang and the Chinese counter-sanctions. In addition, Beijing’s imposition of a trade embargo on Lithuania in December 2021 is also likely to weigh on bilateral ties. As a result, the influence of the agreement remains uncertain in 2022.
As regards practical considerations for making investments in Luxembourg, in general no specific pre-approval process for M&A transactions exists but the deals may be subject to a posteriori approval process by the competent Luxembourg authority.
On September 15 2021, a bill (no. 7885) was adopted to implement Regulation (EU) 2019/452 of the European Parliament and of the Council of March 19 2019, introducing a screening mechanism with a mandatory notification and pre-approval requirement for certain foreign direct investments made by non-European investors in a Luxembourg entity operating in a critical sector in the territory of Luxembourg. The bill will affect Chinese investors that wish to invest in a Luxembourg entity conducting activities on the Luxembourg territory regarded as critical in various sectors (e.g. energy, health, defence, finance, telecoms, data and media) by influencing which sectors Chinese investors focus on.
Furthermore, given the importance of the investment fund industry in M&A transactions, the entry into force of EU Regulation 2019/2088 of November 27 2019 on sustainability-related disclosure in the financial services sector and Regulation 2020/852 of June 2020 on the establishment of a framework to facilitate sustainable investment, may indirectly affect the M&A market as well as strategies of Chinese outbound investments.
The implementation of effective environmental, social and governance (ESG) policies and strategies by target companies may attract more green and ESG-standardised investment from Chinese investors. We have already seen that Chinese investment in Europe has become more focused on greenfield projects. In 2021, greenfield investment reached €3.3 billion, the highest recorded value, making up almost a third of all Chinese FDI.
“Luxembourg is a pre-eminent hub within the EU for financial services activity connected to the Chinese market, and it is well positioned to act as a bridge into the RMB investment pool”
On January 20 2022, the Luxembourg Ministry of Economy launched a public consultation on the possible implementation of a merger control regime in Luxembourg, which ended on March 31 2022. The consultation enquires mainly about the design of the notification procedure and the relevant merger control thresholds.
The purpose of such a regime would be to give the Competition Council the power and the tools to carry out an ex-ante control of certain M&A or other alignments between undertakings which may have a restrictive effect on competition in Luxembourg, and to allow for early detection of such threats to competition, potentially limiting damage to consumers and undertakings alike. The Ministry of Economy has working in close collaboration with all affected ministerial departments on this subject, and is expecting to introduce a bill after completion of preparatory works in 2022.
Regardless of the approach ultimately chosen, it appears likely that any future merger control regime will target transactions with a discernible competitive impact in Luxembourg, with the aim of protecting Luxembourg consumers first and foremost. Chinese investors are advised to stay close to such upcoming bill.
As regards the merger clearance process, the Luxembourg law of October 23 2011 on competition designated the Competition Council as the competent authority to scrutinise and analyse mergers and acquisitions taking place in Luxembourg and involving Luxembourg entities. Although it is a post-closing merger clearance process, the Council has indicated its readiness to encourage market participants to run a pre-merger control check where feasible. This possibility therefore exists for investors looking to acquire a Luxembourg-based target.
As for the restrictions on investment, specific rules may apply in certain sectors. For example, in acquisitions in the financial sector (e.g. banks or asset managers), an investor must notify its intention to acquire a certain threshold in a Luxembourg bank or financial sector entity to the regulator, the Commission de Surveillance du Secteur Financier (CSSF).
The CSSF has the right to oppose the transaction based on reasonable grounds and certain legal criteria. Other restrictions apply in certain industries or on acquisitions of companies with securities admitted to trading on a regulated market in Luxembourg where the CSSF, being the competent authority, shall supervise bids impartially and independently of all parties to the bids. The related rules are established by the law of May 19 2006 implementing Directive 2004/25/EU on takeover bids, as amended (also known as the Takeover Law).
Generally, the abovementioned rules apply to Chinese investors and investments, and there are no currency restrictions and no specific contractual provisions arise in relation to Chinese investment.
The most common legal entities used for Chinese investment into Luxembourg are private limited liability companies (i.e. société à responsabilité limitée or SARL) or public limited liability companies (i.e.société anonyme or SA). Both are commonly used as structures for acquisition of companies.
The SARL has a lower minimum share capital and seems to be favoured over the SA. As regards to investment activities by funds established by Chinese investors in Luxembourg, the most common structure seems to be the reserved alternative investment fund (RAIF), and also, to a certain extent, the specialised investment fund (SIF). Both are set up as limited partnerships in the form of société en commandite simple or société en commandite spéciale. In addition, an investment company in risk capital (i.e. société d’investissement en capital à risqué or SICAR) is also commonly used by investors including Chinese investors to pool money for investment.
The key requirement for setting up and using any of these vehicles is the establishment of a certain entity in Luxembourg with sufficient substance. A minimum share capital needs to be provided to the Luxembourg vehicle and management procedures need to be put in place. More specifically, a majority of the management members of the vehicle shall be Luxembourg resident and regular board meetings shall be held in Luxembourg, to ensure decisions are made in Luxembourg.
In establishing investment funds that carry out M&A activities, investors must verify that these comply with the regime of alternative investment fund managers and obtain the applicable approvals from of the CSSF. While RAIFs are not subject to CSSF approval, the SIF and SICAR investment vehicles must be pre-approved by the CSSF before they can begin their business activities.
The most commonly used dispute resolution mechanisms are court litigation and arbitration.
Arbitration is generally favoured by foreign investors because arbitral awards are easier to enforce than court judgments, more flexible and provide more privacy. By 2020, Luxembourg was party to over 100 bilateral investment protection treaties including a treaty with China, the latest version of which entered into force in 2009. Luxembourg’s arbitration courts are used to international agreements, given Luxembourg has been increasingly used as a platform for cross-border investments, joint-venture vehicles and investment funds carrying out M&A activities worldwide.
As regards litigation, Luxembourg courts typically review disputes in a neutral and independent manner within a normal duration of time and issue titles for enforcement useable in Luxembourg and abroad as far as other jurisdictions are covered under respective regulations and treaties.
One of the most important pieces of regulation in this respect is the Recast Brussels Regulation: Regulation (EU) No. 1215/2012 of the European Parliament and of the Council of December 12 2012 on jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters.
Another is the Convention on jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters (also known as the Lugano Convention). Local civil procedure code and case law are also of importance.
However, parties in Luxembourg tend to solve their disputes outside arbitration and courts. This is to maintain confidentiality and enable a smooth continuation of business in Luxembourg.
Regarding taxation, Luxembourg benefits from an extended network of double taxation treaties advantageous for FDI into and out of Luxembourg. By applicating the European parent/subsidiary directive, typically no withholding tax applies on dividends. The corporate income tax rate in Luxembourg is 17%. No specific FDI tax incentive schemes are in place, nor are there any specific reciprocal tax arrangements between Luxembourg and China.
On March 21 2020, the Luxembourg parliament passed a law implementing Council Directive (EU) 2018/822 of May 25 2018 amending Directive 2011/16/EU as regards mandatory automatic exchange of information in the field of taxation in relation to reportable cross-border arrangements (also known as the DAC6 Law), which entered into force on July 1 2020. It introduces a new obligation for intermediaries to disclose to the Luxembourg tax authorities any cross-border arrangements that meet a hallmark and is expected to also have an impact on cross-border M&A structuring by Chinese investors, as previous method of cross-border M&A tax structuring in terms of the review of the share purchase agreement, tax structuring upon acquisition, cash repatriation strategies upon sale, etc., need to be re-considered for various purposes and in particular transparency.
On October 14 2020, the Minister of Finance of Luxembourg submitted the draft budget law for the year 2021 (Draft Budget Law) to the Luxembourg Parliament, which, among other things, proposes to introduce a 20% withholding tax on income deriving from real estate located in Luxembourg held by certain Luxembourg investment funds directly or through transparent entities or common funds. The Draft Budget Law was adopted by the Luxembourg parliament on December 17 2020 and entered into force on January 1 2021 (for most of the tax measures).
In relation to Covid-19, Luxembourg’s Ministry of Finance announced on March 17 2020 the relaxation of certain tax payment deadlines for companies and self-employed individuals affected by the Covid-19 outbreak. Taxpayers experiencing liquidity problems are entitled to ask for a cancellation of advance tax payments for the first two quarters of 2020. Additionally, the same categories of taxpayer will be given up to four months to pay certain taxes due after February 29 2020, without incurring late payment interest charges. These measures provided more relaxation in terms of cash flows for Chinese investors coming in and having business Luxembourg during the Covid-19 pandemic.
On December 22 2021, the EU Commission issued a draft Council Directive (also known as the ATAD 3) laying down rules to prevent the misuse of shell entities for tax purposes and amending Directive 2011/16/EU (DAC), which would have to be implemented and applied by member states from January 1 2024.
The ATAD 3 provides a multi-step test to facilitate their identification, and introduces an automatic exchange of information on all in-scope entities by amending Directive 2011/16/EU. It is expected to have an impact on EU corporate taxpayers, including Chinese investors who set up legal entities in EU or Luxembourg that have no or only minimal substance, and that perform no actual economic activity, which poses a risk of being used for improper tax purposes, such as tax evasion and avoidance.
The outlook for Chinese investment into Luxembourg remains fairly optimistic, as we are of the opinion that legal and political stability of Luxembourg’s regulatory and legislative framework, as well as growing fund industry and financial sector, are still the main considerations for Chinese investors to make investment decisions even during pandemics.
However, strict capital controls in China, financial deleveraging and Covid-19 restrictions makes a significant rebound for Chinese investment into Luxembourg in 2022 difficult. The war in Ukraine and expanding screening regimes and scrutiny of Chinese investment in the EU will create additional headwinds, and might slow down the Chinese investment in and through Luxembourg.
The exact impact of the war in Ukraine on China’s investment will depend on the development of the crisis and the stance the Chinese government ends up taking towards the conflict. However, the war has already triggered intense debates on critical infrastructure and resilience in Europe, which could in turn increase scrutiny of Chinese investment in a number of sectors including infrastructure, transport and energy.
Investments focusing on certain sectors, such as consumer goods and infrastructure, are more likely to attract attention and interests from Chinese investors. Nevertheless, environmental, social and governance (ESG) and green investment is going to be a major topic and one big potential growth in terms of opportunities going forward.
Chinese government has been more and more encouraging sustainable investment practices and prioritising ESG factors in overseas investment, since the ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ was incorporated into the Constitution of China in 2017.
A trend where ESG factors and consideration will play an important part in investment decision making is expected, and Chinese investors will need to consider ESG standards in evaluating outbound investment opportunities in Luxembourg and the EU. Chinese investors that are facing ESG disconnect and potential ESG risks for the moment will have to seek alignment with counterparties to solve ESG integration issues by acquiring or merging with ESG-adjacent assets and activities. Expertise in asset management relating to China and strong levels of early movement in green finance marks Luxembourg’s position as a hub for supporting green investment flows from China to Luxembourg.
T: +352 271802 00
Marcus Peter is a partner at GSK Stockmann. He previously worked in a leading independent Luxembourg law firm for 12 years (four years as partner), before opening the Luxembourg office of GSK Stockmann in 2016.
Marcus specialises in investment funds, PE and venture capital as well as corporate and M&A law. He regularly speaks at investment fund events and is also a member of the Cross-Border Business Lawyers Network.
Marcus studied at Rostov-na-Donu State University and Saarland University, and is qualified in both Germany and Luxembourg.
Kate Yu Rao
T: +352 271802 00
Kate Yu Rao is a senior associate at GSK Stockmann in Luxembourg. Prior to joining the firm, she worked for a leading independent Luxembourg law firm.
Kate specialises in matters associated with investment funds, PE activity, corporate and finance. She holds a qualification as a fund manager accredited by the Securities Association of China.
Kate studied at the East China University of Political Science and Law, at the Erasmus University Rotterdam and at Bologna University. She also speaks Chinese and is qualified to practice in China..
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City investments dropped nearly $5M during this year's first quarter – Moose Jaw Today
The City of Moose Jaw’s investment portfolios lost nearly $5 million during the first quarter of this year due to — among other things — jittery stock markets, the war in Ukraine and increasing inflation.
During city council’s May 24 regular meeting, council received the investment committee’s report with results from the first quarter of 2022. Council then voted unanimously to receive and file the document.
There was $79,923,836.46 in the long-term portfolio and $29,485,162.61 in the moderate-term portfolio as of March 31, for a total of $109,408,999.07, the report showed. In comparison, as of Dec. 31, 2021, those values were $83,929,536.26, $30,245,558.98, and $114,175,095.24, respectively.
From Jan. 1 to March 31, the long-term portfolio decreased by 4.77 per cent and lost $4,005,699.80. This dropped the portfolio to $79,923,836.46 from $83,929,536.26.
From Jan. 1 to March 31, the moderate-term portfolio decreased by 2.51 per cent and lost $760,396.37. This dropped the portfolio to $29,485,162.61 from $30,245,558.98.
Combined, both portfolios lost $4,766,096.17 during the first quarter, equal to 15.3 percentage points in municipal taxation.
Since the inception of these portfolios in 2019, they have provided total returns of $18,484,248.18.
During the investment committee’s meeting, it made two changes to how money from the long-term portfolio is invested.
Mayor Clive Tolley moved that $2.71 million from that portfolio be invested in the City of Moose Jaw’s operating account; that motion was approved.
Tolley also moved that the municipality establish a $2-million position into iShares Global Quality Dividend over time; that motion was approved.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could lead to a drawn-out period of uncertainty, with the invasion devastating the latter’s economy and harsh sanctions that limit the flow of money, goods and technology affecting the former’s economy, portfolio manager RBC Dominion Securities said in its report.
Due to this war, the financial institution projected a reduction of 0.7 per cent in the eurozone’s GDP growth this year to three per cent and a decrease of 0.3 per cent in the U.S.’s GDP growth to 3.1 per cent.
“From a long-term perspective, the Russian-Ukraine war brings a range of potential implications, including a new Cold War, increased military spending, nuclear proliferation and a heightened motivation to shift energy supplies toward renewables,” RBC added.
Meanwhile, economic recovery worldwide is slowing because of the pandemic, tightening financial conditions, slowing Chinese growth, reduced U.S. spending and elevated inflation levels, the report said.
Global growth will likely decelerate to 3.6 per cent this year compared to 6.2 per cent last year. Developed-world growth will fall to three per cent from 5.1 per cent, while growth in emerging markets will slow to 4.1 per cent from 7.3 per cent last year.
RBC predicted that the damage from sanctions against Russia will be unclear, which means the risk for a recession in the United States this year is higher than ever.
Inflation is also punching the United States — and the world — in the gut and running at the highest levels seen in decades, RBC said. The main drivers are surging commodity prices, supply-chain problems, stimulative central banks, labour shortages and a worldwide housing boom.
“We continue to believe that inflation will, over a longer-term horizon, eventually fully revert to normal, with aging populations and slower population growth even bringing inflation down below historical norms,” the company added.
RBC added that the Russia-Ukraine war would alter the currency landscape, central banks will respond to inflationary pressures, the long-term direction for bond yields will remain up, stocks will have better return potential if earnings come through and re-deploying cash to bonds and stocks will be more attractive.
The next regular council meeting is Monday, June 13.
DNA Pro Investment App Steals $38 Million from Users: Police – Jakarta Globe
Jakarta. The National Police on Friday named 14 suspects in the ongoing investigation into pyramid scheme-style investment app DNA Pro after thousands of users reported financial losses totaling Rp 551 billion ($38 million).
DNA Pro was one of the so-called trading robots taken down in a recent government crackdown on phony investment apps.
“There are at least 3,621 victims who have reported to the National Police Headquarters with a total loss of Rp 551.7 billion,” Special Economic Crime Director Brig. Gen. Whisnu Hermawan told a news conference in Jakarta.
He said 11 suspects are already in custody while three others remain at large.
“We believe that the three fugitives have fled to a foreign country,” he added.
The three are identified as DNA Pro’s co-founders Verawati and Devinata Gunawan and business development director Daniel Zii aka Fauzi.
Police have been investigating the suspected fraud since January when they decided to take down the app.
Whisnu said authorities have frozen 64 bank accounts with links to DNA Pro and a combined deposit of Rp 105.5 billion, seized Rp 112.5 billion in banknotes of various denominations, and confiscated 20 kilograms of gold and 14 luxury cars.
An unspecified number of properties have also been sealed during the police investigation.
“We don’t stop there because investigators and their colleagues from the [anti-money laundering agency] PPATK continue to trace assets here and abroad,” Whisnu said.
The officer added that DNA Pro has committed to “manipulative investment” without a proper trading mechanism and any government license.
All the 11 suspects in custody including president director Daniel Abe were presented at the news conference.
Daniel offered an apology to users and colleagues but argued that the initial idea was not to develop a pyramid scheme investment app.
“It grew so rapidly in terms of [the number of] users while our system was not fully ready yet that it developed into a pyramid scheme,” Daniel said.
Other suspects are identified as Rudi Kusuma, Robby Setiadi, Dedi Tumiadi, Yosua Trisutrisno, Franky Yulianto, Russel, Jerry Gunandar, Stefanus Richard, Hans Andre, and Muhammad Asad.
They could face a sentence of up to 20 years in prison if convicted of financial scams.
The app offered big investment returns and even higher commissions if users could bring new signups. It hired celebrities and prominent people to convince new users.
Actress Una Astari Thamrin once spoke highly of the app but last month she claimed that she too was a victim after being interrogated by police.
Una was promised six Honda cars in return for a certain level of investment and a certain number of new recruits in DNA Pro, a lawyer for the actress said.
“She and her family fall victims to DNA Pro because she has invested Rp 1.5 billion but could only withdraw Rp 603 million,” Yafet Rissy said.
The lawyer claimed that Una wasn’t involved in the DNA Pro management although she was hired to appear in promotion programs on three occasions.
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