Regulatory News – October 2007

China to relax rules on foreign equity ownership * Australia clears private equity purchase of Symbion Health * Thailand: civil servant recommends alternative assets move * China restricts insurance deals

China to relax rules on foreign equity ownership
In Beijing, the State Administration of Foreign Exchange has announced that citizens may now invest in foreign equities as part of a small test scheme. Under the programme, citizens of the city of Tianjin with a Bank of China account will have the chance to purchase shares in Hong Kong-listed companies such as HSBC and Standard Chartered, which will provide investors with exposure to markets well beyond Asia.

Many local commentators expect this to be merely the first step in letting Chinese citizens tap global markets along with diversifying away from the country’s focus on US Treasury bonds and foreign direct investment in overseas plays. Prior to this test scheme, only particular banks and brokerages could invest overseas under the ‘’qualified domestic institutional investor‘’ program.

Australia clears private equity purchase of Symbion Health
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), the country’s competition regulator, has approved the offer from a private equity-backed consortium headed by Healthscope to acquire its larger rival Symbion Health for $2.4 billion.

Healthscope’s bid is backed by private equity firms Ironbridge Capital and Anchor Capital. Under the proposal, Healthscope would acquire Symbion’s medical testing and health centre businesses, while the two firms would retain the consumer and pharmacy business. The approval came in the wake of Healthscope selling some regional businesses to allay competition concerns. Healthscope’s bid beat the competing offer from Sigma Pharmaceuticals. The acquisition will create the country’s largest pathology provider and second-largest private hospital operator. It will stand as the biggest takeover in Australia’s healthcare sector and the seventh-largest in the Asia/Pacific region, according to Dealogic.

Thailand: civil servant recommends alternative assets move
A professional from Thailand’s Fiscal Policy Office has suggested a more active management of the country’s swelling international reserves, including investing in alternative assets. In an article published in The Nation in August, which was subsequently cited by news services in Asia as commentary on Thailand’s monetary policy, Chodechai Suwannaporn argued that the country’s international reserves, which currently stand at $73 billion, represent a significant surplus that could be put to work more aggressively. Suwannaporn proposed splitting the reserves into two tranches; one dedicated to “liquidity”, which would be invested in foreign assets or other safe, short-term monetary instruments, and the other dedicated to “investment”. The investment tranche would include longer-term strategies such as mutual funds, hedge funds and even private equity. Suwannaporn’s plans did not represent a formal declaration of the Office’s intentions, merely his view of how to manage the country’s reserves more effectively.

China restricts insurance deals
The China Insurance Regulatory Commission has issued new limitations on foreign investment in the country’s insurance industry. Under the new regulations, foreign investors will need to retain any investment in a local insurance business for three years in an effort to curb short-term profit-making. Beyond the three-year lock-up period, foreign entities pursuing insurance targets need to have a minimum of $2 billion in assets, along with three straight years of top marks from an international credit agency and a viable earnings track record for that same period. The regulator will maintain the standard limits on foreign ownership of a Chinese company of no more than 25 percent, and no more than 20 percent by a single foreign investor. Any insurer exceeding that 25 percent foreign ownership cap will be treated as an overseas entity.