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中国私募之王:中国经济未来将长期处于转型期|《财富》专访

Shawn Tully 2019年02月12日

如果想了解中国经济走势,最好听听私募股权圈大佬单伟建怎么说。

如果想了解中国经济走势,最好听听私募股权圈大佬单伟建怎么说。他对当前中国经济困境的看法是:经济减速刚刚开始,但长期来看比较稳健。

单伟建的观点之所以很有价值,因为他可以从三种对立的角度看待中国经济,很少有专家能做到。首先他是亚洲最大私募股权公司太盟投资的首席执行官,深耕本地市场;其次,他曾在美国接受教育,获得了经济学博士;此外,他的个人经历与国家发展同步,曾作为知青下放插队,后来又赶上了中国经济发展奇迹,为投资者赚得数十亿美元。

1月下旬一个周二晚上,我在纽约曼哈顿上城区西部的一家咖啡厅里见到了单伟建,他点了一杯热水,后来提到当晚要参加董事电话会议。

单伟建主要在香港生活工作,他到纽约主要为了宣传新书《走出戈壁滩:我在中国和美国的故事》。书中回忆,1969年,他只有十多岁时离开北京的家,在戈壁滩劳动六年。改革开放后,他有机会成为第一代政府公派前往美国学习的留学生。

单伟建在加州大学伯克利分校获得国际贸易专业博士学位,博士论文指导老师是之后担任美联储主席的珍妮特·耶伦,后来他加入沃顿商学院担任教师。书中结尾是一段讲了他回到摇摇欲坠的废弃营房的见闻。他曾在农村当“赤脚医生”,所谓“赤脚医生”属于中国农村干部,接受过治疗小病的基本医疗培训。他遇到转行养猪的老朋友们,因为炎热的土地上已无法谋生。“我们派了大批年轻人与自然斗争,把戈壁变成了可耕种的农场。”他写道。“然而最终自然还是胜利了,戈壁也变回了原样。”

中国一个时代的结束

《走出戈壁滩》一书并未涉及单伟建回国从商的经历,但在交谈中单伟建表示最大的愿望是帮助中国和亚洲其他国家发展私募行业。他曾在摩根大通香港分公司工作五年,1998年加入了私募股权大鳄TPG。他在TPG工作了12年,2010年联合创立了太盟投资,担任总裁兼首席执行官。如今该公司管理资产达300亿美元,成为业内巨头。

单伟建对过去20年里中国的发展大加称赞,但也警告称高速发展的时代已经结束。他的观察结合了对上海和北京高管圈的态度,还有身为经济学家的判断。“如果2019年中国GDP增幅降至6%,我也不会吃惊。”他表示,该增速比去年让人失望的6.6%增幅还要低,而去年的增速已是1990年以来最低。

单伟建认为,当前经济疲软有两个短期因素,但提醒说中国正经历长期转变,远离快速增长的制造业,未来经济增长更有可能小步快跑,不太可能保持之前的高速状态。

他表示,两大短期因素里第一个是信贷严重萎缩。“两年前,政府开始打击提供私营领域大部分信贷的‘影子银行’网络。”他表示,而且称中国私营领域主要是中小型企业。中央政府担心,“影子”系统里的信托公司和其他信贷机构过度扩张,鱼龙混杂的各种机构可能崩溃,影响经济发展。

与此同时,政府规定国有银行至少将50%贷款投给中小企业,从而保持信贷流动。“但大型银行不想贷给私营企业,因为风险较高。”单伟建说。“大银行总想贷给大型国有企业,因为国企背后有政府支持,非常安全。”他表示,由于银行拒绝,“划定比例也没用。”在他看来,私营领域缺少银行信贷支持,无法办新厂、开医院和商店,所以现在经济增速放缓。

第二个阻碍是中美贸易争端。“对企业直接的影响很小,”他表示。“但对商业界的信心冲击很大。贸易争端打击了中国制造商的信心,影响进一步投资。”

单伟建表示,如果想解决冲突,中国应该降低对美国进口产品的关税,并放松美国中国企业持股比例的限制。“如此一来,汽车、手机和其他美国进口产品对消费者来说会更便宜,也逼着中国竞争对手提升竞争力。”他说。“降低相关产品价格后,消费者也会有更多钱花在其他产品上,比如家用电器或杂货等。此举有助于经济增长。由于中国正逐渐转向消费社会,在占据经济大部分的领域促进竞争和效率也越发重要。”

减少制造业,增速放缓

单伟建称,实际上中国由制造业转向消费主导型经济过程中,未来增速放缓不可避免。中国经济主要影响因素是人口。人们普遍认为“独生子女政策”最终将导致中国劳动力人口减少。(2015年计划生育政策已经取消。)

对单伟建来说,随着大批人口从农村移居城市,人口问题得到了缓解,但也被掩盖起来。“就在50年前,我下放到戈壁滩时,中国开始了人类历史上大规模的‘农村化’。”单伟建说。“城市人口1.6亿,有1600万人被送往农村和荒地。过去20年又出现了人类历史上大规模的城市化。正是因为农民前往城市里的工厂工作,才推动了中国的工业化。”

他警告称,该趋势已经达到顶点。“现在中国面临劳动力短缺的局面,劳动力成本也不断提升。”他表示。“过去十年里劳动力成本增加了11%,中国制造商出口产品的价格却持平甚至走低。这也是中国出口领域比不过越南和印尼等亚洲国家的原因。”

以前中国工业非常渴望投资,中国家庭购买商品时也没有太多选择,所以大部分收入都储蓄起来。大量储蓄充实了银行的资本,也为制造业强势崛起输送了资金。那些日子一去不复返了。如今,劳动者的收入里有很大一部分用来购买耐克运动鞋、精致的食物,还有香港和巴黎度假。“以前的储蓄投资模式已经没用。”单伟建说。他指出,十年前出口占GDP的36%,出口基本上是制造业,消费占35%。十年里,出口降到国家收入的19%,消费则升至50%。

制造业大量投资推动的国家比消费主导经济有活力得多,单伟建说。“个人消费对经济的推动比不上制造业投资。”他指出,并解释程基础工业发展可以实现“乘数效应”。在新工厂投资1万亿美元后可创造新的就业岗位,也可以建造更多工厂提供零部件和电力。“与之相反,”单伟建表示,“消费支出没有乘数效应,无法像投资制造业一样推动经济增长。”

要问单伟建的结论,就是由制造业转向消费的历史进程决定了中国经济未来发展将放缓。不过他补充说,中国仍可通过降低国有经济领域,进一步鼓励私营领域扩张,为经济增长腾出空间。仅仅为了维持现有增长水平,也要提升相关领域的效率。

有人预计中国将采取大规模刺激计划推动增长,他怎么看?单伟建认为不太可能。“中国当然有能力这么做。”他说。“中国的财政状况比其他大国都要好。中央政府的债务对GDP占比仅为17%,外汇储备有3万亿美元,而且外国投资者仅持有小部分主权债务。”但他预计政府不会轻易开放货币闸门。他表示,过去两年,政策的主要目标是限制消费和商业领域过度杠杆的状态,避免制造资产泡沫,一旦破裂可能拖累经济。在单伟建看来,政府认为过度信贷比限制限制信贷更有可能影响经济增长。

资产泡沫?可能性不大

有人担心中国推动住房和其他房地产价格快速升高,一旦价格骤降可能出现灾难性的后果。单伟建认为相关担心言过其实,中国不会出现2008年到2010年的美国金融危机,或1997年到1998年的亚洲金融危机。

“之前两次(危机)都是房地产市场崩盘导致,但关键是房产市场崩溃重创了银行系统,导致信贷紧缩,随后出现更严重的衰退。”单伟建表示。“上世纪90年代末,亚洲数百家银行倒闭。我们(TPG)买了几家。”他继续说,差别在于在中国法律和银行业规定的限制下,银行在房地产市场的杠杆不高,风险也可控。

他列出了四个原因证明银行业杠杆不高,所以银行系统很安全。“首先,银行放贷时不高于购买价格的70%到80%,”他表示,“说明购房者掌握大部分产权。第二,房价涨了很多,现有购房者已经支付了部分贷款,所以整体经济中购房者持有的产权比例大概在50%左右。”

第三,中国人对偿还房贷很负责。如果面临赎回,他们不会像金融危机期间数百万美国人一样放弃了之。“举例来说,亚洲金融危机期间,香港房主在亏本情况下也在坚持还房贷。”单伟建表示。“极少有赎回的案例,而在亚洲其他地区出现了赎回潮,市场上涌入了大量房子。”

第四个保障措施在于中国限制拥有多套住宅。“这意味着中国家庭的风险暴露低得多,不会满足刚需后去买度假屋,再买一套投资。”他说。单伟建总结称,即使房价下跌30%,对银行系统几乎构不成威胁。不过他也警告,房价下跌也有后遗症,主要会影响“财富效应”。 “如果房价下跌,消费者感觉变穷,消费会减少,经济增长将受影响。”他说。

下注中国消费者

毫不奇怪,单伟建最中意的投资领域是消费品和服务,他认为这些领域代表了中国的未来,而不是曾经推动中国崛起的重工业领域。“我们最看好的是医疗、医药、专业金融,还有食品饮料领域。”他表示。“毕竟中国有14亿消费者,每年的消费越来越多,储蓄越来越少。”

太盟投资在音乐领域获得了巨大成功。单伟建解释说,大概五年前,太盟投资向中国音乐集团投资了1亿美元,多年来该公司不断买入或授权音乐版权,几乎囊括中国所有流行音乐,也包括进入中国市场的西方音乐。

但他表示,中国政府强力推行法律保护本土知识产权,法院执行方面也大力加强。而且,音乐爱好者也开始拒绝盗版商制作音质低劣的音乐。

2018年12月中旬,中国音乐集团与QQ音乐合并后的腾讯音乐娱乐集团在美国纳斯达克上市,目前市值260亿美元左右。太盟投资持有的股份价值数十亿美元。“我们每月有8亿独立用户。”单伟建表示。他表示,腾讯音乐发展的故事集中体现了中国如何由世界工厂转变为世界市场。他说,完全开放市场不仅对中国消费者有利,也可以重振面临困境的贸易伙伴关系,过去贸易合作推动了中国发展,未来也是关键。(财富中文网)

译者:冯丰

审校:夏林

If you want to understand where China is heading, the best guide may be private equity veteran Weijian Shan. His take on his country’s current economic predicament: Its slowdown has only just begun, but its long-term health looks sound.

Shan’s perspective is so valuable because he views his homeland’s economy from three contrasting vantage points that few, if any, experts can match: As an on-the-ground dealmaker in his role as chief of PAG, Asia’s largest private equity firm; as a U.S.-trained, PhD economist; and as a figure whose personal story followed his nation’s rise, from the brutal oppression that exiled him into forced labor during the Cultural Revolution to the economic miracle that enabled him to bring billions of dollars in gains to his investors.

On a Tuesday evening in late January, I met Shan at a modest cafe on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Shan––who later mentioned he was attending a board meeting by phone later that evening––ordered a cup of hot water.

Though he lives and works in Hong Kong, Shan was in town to promote his new book, Out of the Gobi: My Story of China and America. It chronicles the nightmare of being torn from his family in Beijing as a teenager in 1969 and sent to the Gobi Desert, where he toiled as a laborer for six years. Shan relates how China’s liberalization under Deng Xiaoping enabled him to join the first generation dispatched by the government to study in the U.S.

Shan earned a doctorate in international business at U.C. Berkeley, where he wrote his PhD thesis under the tutelage of future Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen, then joined the faculty at the Wharton School. The book’s epilogue is a heartbreaking account of his return the crumbling, abandoned barracks where he once toiled as a “barefoot doctor,” one of a cadre of rural Chinese given basic medical training to treat minor illnesses. He encountered old friends who turned to pig farming because they could no longer scratch a living from the parched soil. “We had spent so much of our youth battling nature to turn this land into arable farms,” he writes. “Eventually, nature prevailed and took it back.” This final chapter is a eulogy for his comrades, victims of the notorious “Cultural Revolution’ who “had been denied a future, wasting their best years when they should have been in school. For what?”

The end of an era in China

Out of the Gobi doesn’t encompass the business career that took him back to his homeland, but in our conversation, Shan noted that his ultimate ambition was to help provide the capital to build private enterprise in China and other Asian countries. After a five-year stint with J.P. Morgan in Hong Kong, he joined private equity colossus TPG in 1998. He spent the next 12 years at TPG, then in 2010 co-founded PAG, where he serves as chairman and CEO. He has built that firm into a giant with $30 billion in capital under management.

Shan is full of praise for China’s ascent over the past two decades, but he warns that the era of epic growth is ending. His observations blend what he sees in the C-suites in Shanghai and Beijing with his insights as an economist. “I wouldn’t be surprised if GDP falls to 6% in 2019,” he says, a rate below last year’s already disappointing 6.6%, one of the lowest readings since 1990.

Shan reckons that two short-term forces are contributing to the current softness, but cautions that it’s the durable, secular shift away from fast-expanding manufacturing that ensures that China will jog rather than sprint in the future.

The first of two immediate problems, he says, is a severe contraction in credit. “Two years ago, the government started cracking down on the ‘shadow banking’ network that provided most of the credit to the private sector,” he says, adding that private enterprise is dominated by small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) in China. Beijing was worried that trust companies and other lenders in the “shadow” system were dangerously over-extended, and the motley group might crash, hobbling the economy.

At the same time, the government tried to ensure that the state-controlled banks kept credit flowing by dictating that they target at least 50% of their lending to SMEs. “But the big banks didn’t want to lend to private companies because they’re riskier credits,” says Shan. “They always wanted to loan money to the big state-owned enterprises, [SOEs] because they’re backed by the government, and totally safe.” Because the banks resisted, he says, “the quotas didn’t work.” His view: The private sector isn’t getting the bank financing it needs for new plants, medical facilities and stores––a phenomenon that’s now slowing the economy.

The second deadweight is the trade dispute with the U.S. “The direct impact on business is small,” he says. “But the impact on business confidence is large. The dispute is hitting confidence among Chinese producers, and discouraging them from investing.”

To help resolve the conflict, says Shan, China should lower its tariffs on U.S. imports, and lift barriers to U.S. ownership of Chinese companies. “That would lower prices to consumers on cars, cell phones and other U.S. imports, and also force Chinese rivals to become more competitive,” he says. “Making those products cheaper would give consumers more money to spend on other products, on appliances or groceries. And that would help growth. Since China is becoming much more of a consumer society, it’s getting more and more important to promote competition and efficiency in what’s now the bulk of the economy.”

Less manufacturing, slower growth

Indeed, says Shan, China’s shift from a manufacturing to consumer-led economy is what will inevitably slow its future growth. China’s economic destiny is being dictated by its demographics. It’s long been clear that the “one-child policy” would eventually constrict China’s workforce. (That policy was ended in 2015.)

For Shan, that problem was alleviated, and masked, by the giant migration from rural areas to the cities. “Exactly fifty years ago, when I was sent to the Gobi, China began the greatest ‘ruralization’ in human history,” says Shan. “Out of 160 million people living in cities, 16 million were sent to farms and barren areas. For the past twenty years, we’ve seen the greatest urbanization in human history. It’s that migration of peasants and farmers to urban factories that drove China’s industrialization.”

That trend, he now warns, has peaked. “China is now facing a tight supply of workers that’s driving up labor costs,” he says. “Labor costs have risen 11% a year for the past decade, while prices of the exports China manufactures are flat or declining. That’s why China is now losing exports to other Asian nations such as Vietnam and Indonesia.”

Chinese industry was once hungry for investment, and the Chinese, faced with a meagre choice of consumer goods at home, saved most of their incomes. Those savings swelled the bank deposits that funded China’s mighty rise in manufacturing. Those days are over. Today, a much bigger share of workers’ paychecks are going to Nike sneakers, fancy foods, and vacations in Hong Kong or Paris. “The old model of saving to invest no longer works,” says Shan. He points out that ten years ago, exports, a proxy for manufacturing, accounted for 36% of GDP and consumption 35%. Over that span, exports have dropped to 19% of national income, and consumption has jumped to 50%.

A nation driven by heavy investment in manufacturing is a lot more dynamic than an economy dominated by consumer spending, says Shan. “Private consumption produces lower growth than than manufacturing investment,” he notes. He explains that a growing industrial base creates a “multiplier effect.” Each trillion yuan in invested in a new factories contributes far more than that in economic growth by creating new jobs and still more factories to supply components and power. “Conversely,” says Shan, “consumption spending doesn’t provide a multiplier. It doesn’t provide the impetus for growth that investment in manufacturing does.”

Shan’s conclusion: The historic shift from manufacturing to consumption is bound to slow China’s future expansion. He adds, however, that China still has lots of room to improve its growth profile by downsizing the state-owned sector, and further encouraging expansion of private industry. And those sources of efficiency will be needed simply to sustain current levels of growth.

What about predictions that Beijing will enact a big stimulus package to re-ignite growth? Shan doesn’t think it will happen. “China certainly has the capacity to do it,” he says. “Its finances are in better shape than any other major economy. The central government’s debt to GDP ratio is just 17%, it has $3 trillion in foreign exchange reserves, and foreigners own a tiny amount of its sovereign debt.” But he predicts that the government will avoid opening the monetary floodgates. The policies of the past two years, he says, are specifically aimed at curbing what Beijing viewed as excess leverage for both consumers and businesses, potentially creating asset bubbles that once exploded, could sink the economy. For Shan, the government views the risks of excess credit as more damaging than the drag on growth from restricting credit.

A real estate bubble? Not likely

Some concerns about China center on the rapid escalation in prices for housing and other real estate, and the possibly disastrous aftershocks if prices fall sharply. Shan sees those fears as overblown: He doesn’t see a replay of the U.S. financial crisis of 2008 to 2010, or the Asian collapse in the 1997 and 1998.

“Both [those crises] were caused by a collapse in real estate, but the key is that the real estate collapse wrecked the banking system, causing a credit crunch that led to deep recessions,” says Shan. “In the late ’90s, hundreds of Asian banks failed; we [at TPG] bought several of them.” The difference, he continues, is that Chinese federal laws and banking guidelines have limited leverage in the real estate market, limiting the danger to the banks.

He lists four reasons that real estate isn’t dangerously leveraged, and hence why the banking system is well protected. “First, the banks will lend no more than 70% to 80% of the purchase price,” he says, “meaning the homebuyer has substantial equity. Second, prices have risen a lot, and existing homeowners have already paid down part of their loans, so their equity across the economy is more like 50%.”

A third factor: The Chinese are personally liable for the entire amount of their home loans. They can’t walk away if they face foreclosure, as millions of Americans did in the financial crisis. “In the Asian financial crisis, for example, homeowners in Hong Kong kept paying even when they were under-water,” says Shan. “There were few foreclosures, while in other parts of Asia, foreclosures flooded the market with homes.”

A fourth safeguard arises from the widespread restriction on owning more than one home. “That means the Chinese families are a lot less exposed than if they owned a main house, but also a vacation home and another place for investment,” he says. All told, Shan concludes that even if housing prices dropped 30%, that scenario would still would pose little threat to the banking system. Such a fall, he cautions, would still leave a big hangover– in the form of the “wealth effect.” “If housing prices fall and consumers feel a lot poorer, they’ll spend a lot less, and growth will falter,” he says.

Betting on Chinese consumers

Its hardly surprising that Shan’s favorite sector for investing is consumer products and services that he says are China’s future, rather than the heavy industry that once defined its incredible ascent. “We see the best opportunities in health care, pharmaceuticals, specialty finance, and food and beverage,” he says. “We’re talking about 1.4 billion consumers who are consuming more and saving less every year.”

PAG just scored a spectacular success in music. Shan explains that about just five years ago, PAG made a $100 million investment in China Music Corp, a company that for years was either buying up or licensing virtually every pop music copyright it could in China, and also for Western music targeting the Chinese market. “Those copyrights and licenses were selling for peanuts,” says Shan. “That’s because ten years ago there was so much pirating and illegal copying of music, that the copyright protections were almost worthless.”

But over time, he says, the government enacted strong new laws shielding China’s intellectual property, and the courts greatly improved enforcement. To boot, music lovers began shunning scratchy-sounding copies made by the pirating shops.

In mid-December 2018, Tencent Music Entertainment, created from a merger of China Music and QQ Music, went public on the Nasdaq, and now carries a market value of $26 billion. PAG’s holdings are worth a few billion dollars. “We have 800 million unique monthly users,” says Shan. The Tencent Music story, he says, epitomizes what he calls China’s shift from the world’s factory to the world’s market. Fully opening that market, says Shan, would both benefit the Chinese consumer, and reinvigorate the now-endangered trading partnerships that so enriched its past and are so crucial to its future.

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