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商业 - 科技

肥水流入外人田:中国人为何买不了中国科技绩优股

Scott Cendrowski 2014年07月16日

腾讯、微博,包括刚刚上市的京东以及即将上市的阿里巴巴,这些都是中国科技公司中的明星公司,外国投资者靠他们赚得盆满钵满。但因为法律法规的限制,中国投资者反而无缘成为它们的股东。

    当今中国一大令人啼笑皆非的事情是,中国科技公司的佼佼者大多为外国人所持有:腾讯控股(Tencent Holdings Ltd)、微博(Weibo Corp)、新浪(Sina Corp.)和京东(JD.com),随便举出几个明星股票,都是这样。

    很难确切知道外国人拥有这些公司多少股票。中国法律禁止外资投资科技领域(稍后将进一步说明),为了绕开相关规定,中国公司使用了非常复杂的结构,而这也模糊了真正的持股状况。但即便是非常保守的估算,外国人也持有大量股份。而且,他们都赚得盆满钵满。

    南非传媒公司Naspers以3,400万美元购得的腾讯早期股份,当前价值已超过400亿美元。雅虎(Yahoo)2005年投资阿里巴巴的10亿美元,当前也已价值约300亿美元。百度(Baidu)2005年的IPO也让很多美国的风险投资者一夜暴富。

    但如今尤其引人注目的是,除了这些中国公司的创始人和内部人士拥有的股票外,这些公司的很多股票都由外国人所持有。基本上,这些海外上市的中国科技公司都是外国人持有——造成这个结果的正是前面提到的中国法律规定,因为它禁止大部分中国人持有这些中国业绩最佳公司的股票。

    外国人最早能持有这些中国科技新贵的股票是通过可变利益实体(VIE),这种架构是2000年中国互联网门户网站新浪在纽约上市时创造出来的。

    可变利益实体是一种会计技巧,旨在绕开中国政府的限制,让外国投资者能拥有科技等中国政府视为敏感行业的股权。依照这些法律规定,外国投资者通常禁止持有“增值”电信公司50%以上的股份。

    为了绕开这些法律规定,银行家们在开曼群岛等避税天堂设立了可变利益实体,将它们与中国大陆的公司关联起来。这使得外国投资者可以购买这些可变利益实体的股票,而不是直接购买中国大陆公司的股票。

    但通过海外上市,这些科技公司在中国变成了外国股票,意味着普通中国投资者不能购买。中国严格的资本管制禁止国人将大笔资金转移出国,购买在纽约上市的股票等这类资产。

    “这是在这个行业使用开曼群岛/可变利益实体架构所产生的问题之一,”北京大学光华管理学院(Peking University’s Guanghua School of Management)教授保罗•吉利斯说。这位教授在北京开了一个非常有影响力的会计博客,他说“这些公司选择海外上市后,中国人就被排除在外,无法再成为它们的股东。”

    这也是为什么,即便用最保守的估计,海外上市中国科技股公司的大股东也是外国人。

    以腾讯公司为例,这家公司运营着中国最流行的应用软件微信(WeChat),当前价值1,450亿美元。据通讯公司网站的数据显示,南非传媒公司Naspers拥有它大约35%的股份。公司董事长马化腾和一位联合创始人拥有这家公司约16%的股份。剩余大部分股份都为中国大陆以外的人士所有。

    阿里巴巴的例子更加鲜明。阿里巴巴在今年早些时候递交的IPO材料中称,雅虎持有23%的股份,总部位于日本的软银(SoftBank)拥有34%的股份。相比之下,创始人马云仅持有约7.5%的股份。

    一旦阿里巴巴这项宣称为美国最大IPO的交易在纽约进行,几十位阿里巴巴内部人士将通过公开市场出售所持股份,成为互联网富豪。而这些买主将毫无疑问来自中国之外。

    普通中国投资者不能购买海外上市的最热门中国股票,中国并不是没有人注意到这个不公平的现象。2011年出版的《99%的中国人不知道的历史真相》(The Historical Truths 99% Chinese Don’t Know)一书中,一张图显示日本、美国和南非分别持有搜狐(Sohu)、百度和腾讯85%以上的股份。

    这张图有点夸张。但在中国,这种情绪一点也不夸张。(财富中文网)

    One of the great ironies in China today is that the spoils of the country’s tech highflyers—Tencent Holdings Ltd TCEHY 1.09% , Weibo Corp WB 0.10% , Sina Corp. SINA 0.60% , Baidu BIDU 1.52% and JD.com JD , to name just a few stock market stars —are largely going to foreigners.

    It’s tough to know exactly how much of the stocks foreigners own. The complicated structures Chinese companies use to skirt China law that makes foreign investments in tech illegal (more on that in a second) also obfuscate exact ownership levels. But even by fairly conservative estimates, foreigners own a lot. And they’re richer for it.

    The South African media company Naspers paid $34 million for an early stake in Tencent that’s now worth more than $40 billion. Yahoo’s $1 billion investment in Alibaba back in 2005 is worth around $30 billion. And Baidu’s IPO in 2005 made many U.S. venture capitalists very rich.

    But what’s striking today is that, aside from the stock owned by the Chinese companies’ founders and insiders, many of the shares of these companies are owned by foreigners. Essentially, Chinese tech companies are foreign-owned—the result of Chinese laws making it illegal for most Chinese to own the stocks of their country’s best performing companies.

    Foreigners were first able to own Chinese tech upstarts through something called a variable interest entity (VIE), first created for Internet portal Sina’s IPO in New York in 2000.

    The VIE was an accounting gimmick to get around China’s rules limiting foreign ownership in industries the government deemed sensitive, such as technology. Under the laws, foreign investors are usually not permitted to own more than 50% of equity in a “value-added” telecommunications company.

    To get around this, bankers set up VIEs in tax havens like the Cayman Islands and linked them to Chinese companies in the mainland. This allowed foreign investors buy shares in the VIE instead of the mainland Chinese company directly.

    But by listing overseas, the tech company stocks became foreign stocks in China, which meant regular Chinese investors couldn’t buy them. China’s strict capital control laws prevent citizens from moving big money out of the country to buy things like New York-listed stocks.

    “It is one of the problems with the Cayman Islands/VIE structures used in this sector,” observes Paul Gillis, a professor at Peking University’s Guanghua School of Management who runs an influential accounting blog from Beijing. “They force an overseas listing that precludes Chinese from becoming shareholders.”

    This is why even by conservative guesses, the majority shareholders of China’s tech names are foreigners.

    Take Tencent, the $145 billion company behind China’s most popular app, WeChat. The South African media company Naspers has a stake of about 35%, according to its website. After that, Chairman “Pony” Ma and a co-founder own about 16% of the company. Most of the rest of the equity is owned by people outside mainland China.

    Alibaba’s example is even starker. In IPO materials filed this year, Alibaba said Yahoo held a 23% stake and Japan-based SoftBank owned 34%. Founder Jack Ma, by comparison, holds about 7.5%.

    Once the company IPOs in New York in what’s being hyped the largest public offering ever in the U.S., dozens of Alibaba insiders will earn Internet riches by selling their stakes to buyers in public markets. Those buyers will undoubtedly be located outside China.

    The unfairness of regular Chinese investors not getting to buy into the country’s hottest companies doesn’t go unnoticed in China. A Chinese book titled “The Historical Truths 99% Chinese Don’t Know” released in 2011 includes a chart purporting to show that Japanese, American, and South Africans owned more than 85% of Sohu, Baidu, and Tencent, respectively.

    The chart is hyperbole. But in China, the sentiment is not.

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