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China prods its biggest state firms to boost investment in crisis-hit Hong Kong, sources say – The Globe and Mail

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China has called on its biggest state firms to take a more active role in Hong Kong, including stepping up investment and asserting more control of companies in the financial hub, executives familiar with the matter said, as Beijing attempts to calm months of unrest in the city.

At a meeting this week in Shenzhen, the city bordering Hong Kong, senior representatives from nearly 100 of China’s largest state-run companies were urged to do their part to help cool China’s biggest political crisis in years, three executives, including one who was present, told Reuters.

At the meeting, the state-owned enterprises (SOEs) pledged to invest more in key Hong Kong industries including real estate and tourism in a bid to create jobs for local citizens and stabilize financial markets, two of the executives said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. No specific investments were discussed or agreed upon, they said.

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The SOEs in attendance included oil giant China Petroleum & Chemical Corp., or Sinopec, and conglomerate China Merchants Group, one of the sources said.

The meeting was organized by the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission (SASAC), the powerful central body that oversees China’s sprawling state sector, which includes some of the world’s biggest companies in industries such as steel, energy, shipping and telecoms.

SASAC did not respond to a faxed request for comment. Officials at Sinopec and China Merchants Group did not respond to e-mailed requests for comment and calls to the two companies went unanswered.

Instead of simply holding stakes in Hong Kong companies, the Chinese SOEs were also urged to look to control companies and have decision-making power in them, one of the people familiar with the meeting said.

“The business elites in Hong Kong are certainly not doing enough. Most of them are just not one of us,” the SOE executive who was at the meeting told Reuters.

SASAC’s Communist Party chief, Hao Peng, appeared in Hong Kong on Wednesday at a forum for the Belt and Road infrastructure initiative and said that SOEs were looking for ways to co-operate in major projects in the city, according to a SASAC news release.

Mr. Hao, who was accompanied by a group of SOE executives, also met with Carrie Lam, the city’s Chief Executive.

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While China’s big state firms are for-profit enterprises and many are publicly traded, they have long been expected to do national service, including maintaining high levels of employment and helping Beijing execute initiatives such as its big Belt & Road infrastructure plan.

Months of huge and often-violent protests in Hong Kong were triggered by planned legislation that would have allowed suspects to be extradited to mainland courts. The protests have been fuelled by what is seen by many in Hong Kong as creeping Chinese influence that is eroding the “one country, two system” model under which China has ruled Hong Kong since its handover from Britain in 1997.

Widening mainland influence in Hong Kong has included the purchase of corporate assets and real estate.

The Hong Kong economy was once dominated by British trading houses with roots in the 19th century. Local tycoons started to take over many of the businesses in the latter part of the 20th century, creating huge conglomerates such as Li Ka-shing’s CK Hutchison Holdings Ltd.

Beijing has been willing to put pressure on Hong Kong businesses to be more patriotic, expressing unhappiness during an August meeting with the city’s business elites that they weren’t doing enough to quiet the protests, according to a report at the time by the state-run Xinhua news agency.

In the meeting last month with about 500 business leaders and pro-Beijing politicians from Hong Kong, Chinese authorities urged that they should “have no fears and stand up” to stop violence in the city, Xinhua reported.

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Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd., a legacy of Hong Kong’s colonial era, has become the biggest corporate casualty of the protests after Beijing demanded it suspend staff who support the demonstrations. Its chairman announced plans to step down in November, less than three weeks after chief executive officer Rupert Hogg left amid mounting regulatory scrutiny.

Hong Kong subway operator MTR Corp. also bowed to pressure in August to get tough on anti-government protesters after Chinese state media expressed dismay at the firm for its perceived facilitation of the spread of violence by protesters.

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Goldman and DWS prepare bids for NN Investment Partners – Financial Times

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Goldman Sachs Asset Management and Germany’s DWS are preparing bids for NN Group’s investment management arm as consolidation in the industry gathers pace.

The Dutch insurer said in April it was considering a sale of NN Investment Partners, which has €300bn in assets under management.

The deadline for final binding offers is Monday. GSAM, which has more than $2tn in assets under supervision, and Frankfurt-based DWS are still in the sale process and preparing bids, said people familiar with the situation.

The deal price is in the region of €1.4bn, one of the people said. NN Group, GSAM and DWS declined to comment.

UBS Asset Management, Janus Henderson and US insurer Prudential Financial are among those to have previously registered their interest. All three declined to comment.

Investment managers globally are embarking on mergers and acquisitions designed to shield profits from rising costs and falling fees, while seeking to tap into fast-growing markets such as passive investing, private assets and ESG, and open up new distribution channels.

“The competitive environment for traditional active asset managers has intensified and a smaller group of larger players are now dominating the institutional segment,” said Vincent Bounie, senior managing director at Fenchurch Advisory, a specialist investment bank for financial services.

“It has become complicated to grow and very difficult to have a profitable business, in particular if you have undifferentiated plain vanilla products.”

Asoka Woehrmann, chief executive of DWS, which is majority owned by Deutsche Bank, told shareholders at the €820bn group’s annual meeting last month that it wanted to be “an active player” in industry consolidation. It is seeking further scale to challenge rival Amundi for supremacy in Europe.

Meanwhile for insurance companies, a prolonged period of low interest rates and higher capital requirements under Solvency II rules is prompting groups to weigh up where they allocate their capital, Bounie said. “For many of them, subscale asset management divisions are no longer core activities and there will probably be more divestments.”

NN Group, which is based in The Hague, came under pressure last year from activist hedge fund Elliott Management to improve returns and streamline its operations. It said in April it was considering options including a merger, joint venture or a partial divestment of the division.

NN Investment Partners has about 950 employees. Of its €300bn in assets under management, two-thirds is managed on behalf of its insurance parent company with the remaining third run for external investors.

The division’s range of funds covers fixed income, equity, multi-asset and alternative investment strategies. It has a strong position in ESG investing, notably in areas such as green bonds, impact equity and sustainable equity.

Additional reporting by Ian Smith in London

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Condo Smarts: Existing buildings can be good investment – Times Colonist

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Dear Tony: We are retiring this year and considering downsizing to a condo. We have started looking at both new and existing properties around Vancouver and Victoria, but we encounter challenges with both options.

New developments are often available only through presales and the time periods for completion would require us to sell, rent until the property is ready, and with few assurances of completion dates would require us to move twice with no guarantees how the properties would be managed or how fees would be structured for long term operations.

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Existing buildings are more attractive; however, we find most properties are sold within days of listing, and there appears to be more of a concern by realtors to keep strata fees low rather than looking at the age of the buildings and the long-term maintenance to protect owner investments.

Are there any standards or consumer rules we might consider following? As new buyers into a condo lifestyle we would like to avoid a sinking investment.

Karyn and Jerry W.

There are many existing buildings and communities that are an excellent investment. They are easily identified by reviewing the financial reports, investments, a depreciation report completed by a qualified consultant or reserve planner, and by reviewing the minutes of the strata corporation to identify how they address maintenance, planning and funding for the future.

While every building has different amenities, staffing and servicing requirements, an annual budget that identifies all the service contracts for maintenance and operations is a significant asset. An active use of the depreciation report to plan for future renewals and major maintenance components is a healthy indication of a well managed property.

Low strata fees are problematic for strata corporations as they often indicate a community dependent on special levies. Special levies require a 3/4 vote of owners at general meetings and many owners vote against a special levies generally due to affordability issues. The result of failed special levies is deferred repairs that will only rise in cost and damages, and the potential for court actions or CRT orders.

There is also a direct link between low strata fees, deferred maintenance and renewals, and higher risks for insurers. This results in higher insurance rates and deductibles for strata corporations.

Buyers should always request copies of depreciation reports, any engineering and environmental reports, minutes of annual meetings, the bylaws and rules of the property, copy of the strata insurance policy, and a Form B Information Certificate, which will also identify any courts actions or decisions against the strata corporation. Read all documents and discuss any issues with your realtor and lawyer. This should help separate the well managed buildings vs the buildings at risk.

New construction in some ways is easier to manage as the strata corporation is enabled to make the right decisions that will impact funding and future operations. Owners can have a direct effect on their investments by joining and supporting the newly formed strata council and making decisions that ensure a well funded and planned operations plan.

Strata fees for new properties often start low in the first year as there are service contracts included with the new construction that are included in the warranty period and some developers will entice buyers with low costs. Plan on an increase of fees once all units are occupied and the strata corporation is fully serviced for operations and maintenance.

This may be impacted by insurance costs, staffing, and consulting for warranty inspections, legal services and the management of warranty claims, the commissioning of a deprecation report, and operational requirements.

Every building, which consists of endless components, will have failures. The effective management and planning of those issues when they arise is the true test of a well managed property. Product failures and installations are often beyond anyone’s control; however, a well funded property will also be able to respond without a significant crisis for owners.

Tony Gioventu is executive director of the Condominium Home Owners Association.

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Investing inside a corporation: what you need to know – MoneySense

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FPAC responds:

Congratulations on your successful retirement! At a stage when most people are focussed on decumulation, you’re asking about establishing an approach for long-term, tax-efficient investing inside your corporation. Let’s walk through these important considerations:

Investment decisions: robo-advisor or DIY—and ETFs or bank stocks?

A robo-advisor is a great choice for automated, tax-efficient and low-cost investing. A robo-advisor will be able to set you up with a portfolio of low-cost, widely diversified ETFs. Regular rebalancing, quarterly reporting and ease of use will make this option attractive if you are looking for a hands-off approach. Most of the leading robo-advisor platforms in Canada will help you set up a corporate account. 

If you’re comfortable being a little bit more hands-on, you might consider implementing a multi-ETF model portfolio. This approach will require you to open an account at a brokerage and do some regular investment maintenance, including allocating cash, reinvesting dividends and rebalancing

Alternatively, you could also consider implementing an asset-allocation ETF solution. These “all-in-one” ETFs are available in different stock/bond allocations to suit your risk preferences, and they are globally diversified. 

You mention tax-efficiency being important to you. Broad index-based ETFs track an underlying market index. The stocks and bonds in these indices do not change often, so there isn’t a lot of buying and selling of stocks—also known as “turnover”—happening inside of your ETFs. A portfolio with low turnover will not stir up a lot of unwanted capital gains in years that you don’t want to take money out of your accounts, and less turnover means less tax payable year-to-year, leaving more of your money working for you. All in all, tax efficiency is a huge benefit of an index fund ETF approach to investing, especially if you’re investing inside of a corporation. 

You also mentioned bank stocks as an alternative. I can understand the appeal of this approach, as buying stocks of Canada’s large financial institutions has proven to be an effective strategy over the past several years. Unfortunately, the past performance of any investment strategy does not tell us much about its performance in the future. And, in the case of bank stocks, your investment will be very concentrated on a single sector, in a single country. This approach to investing carries risks that can be easily diversified away by using broad, globally diversified index-based ETFs. (In fact, Nobel Prize laureate Harry Markowitz famously called diversification “the only free lunch in investing.”)

Understanding the ins and outs of corporate investing

Investing inside of a corporation can be complicated. A corporation is taxed differently than an individual in Canada. As individuals, we are taxed based on a progressive income tax system, meaning higher amounts of income are taxed at higher rates. In your case, if you are earning (or realizing) a lower income in retirement, your last dollar of income is likely taxed at a lower rate than it was while you were working. When you combine lower tax rates with other benefits that the tax system provides to seniors—such as pension income splitting and age credits—it is possible that you will not be taxed at the high end of the marginal tax table in retirement. 

Passive investment income generated inside a corporation, on the other hand, is taxed at a single flat rate of around 50% in Ontario, or close to the highest marginal tax rate. Passive income tax rates are so high because the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) doesn’t want us to have an unfair tax advantage by investing our portfolios inside corporations.

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