Jamie Dimon: China Wants To Get Everything And Give Nothing

If I were a prosecutor I’d be thanking Al Gore for inventing the internet and email (I don’t know if Mr. Vice President claimed the email invention, but without the internet there is no email).  Especially email, because now you can amass evidence of wrongdoing in a very searchable and easy-to-use format.  TheStreet.com has dug up a very interesting email that shows what goes behind closed doors when the heads of two of the largest US and Spanish banks get together and talk.  Not all of it appears to be legal – there may be collusion and an agreement not to compete for acquisitions.
I get the feeling some laws may have been broken here, but I am not a lawyer (thank God!).  But the comment that really drew my attention was not about the collusion, but what the best banker in the country – Jamie Dimon, the head of JPMorgan – thinks about the Chinese banking system.  In this excerpt, an employee who was present at the meeting sums up Jamie’s thoughts on China:

Like many others, they are struggling to do business in Asia. Considering to buy a stake in a bank in China and asked if it makes sense to do so at current prices. Jamie replied that the concept is ok, but not now, too expensive, adding that so far “in China it is a one way street” with them wanting to get all and letting you get nothing, and that there will be more and better opportunities when China has a downturn.

Also, too difficult to know what you are buying: many of them do not yet have integrated systems, possibly a meaningful amount of political loans, etc. [emphasis added]

Jamie is not your typical banker; he doesn’t dance (like Chuck Prince) just because the music is playing.  His caution, long-term thinking, and contrarianism (he cut off risky lending before everyone else) made JPMorgan a  victor in the recent financial meltdown, at least in relative terms.  The stock price is still down from the pre-crisis level, but it is not in single digits or the teens, like Citigroup (C ) or Bank of America (BAC).  I’d be listening carefully to what he is saying about the soundness of the Chinese banking system.
Vitaliy N. Katsenelson, CFA, is a portfolio manager/director of research at Investment Management Associates in Denver, Colo. He is the author of “Active Value Investing: Making Money in Range-Bound Markets” (Wiley 2007).  To receive my future articles by email, click here.

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