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Not Much 'Hot Money' in China: Zhou Xiaochuan

There might be some speculative funds betting on the yuan appreciation, or the so-called "hot money" flowing into China, but the amount was "not big", central bank governor Zhou Xiaochuan said in Beijing Monday.
The reason is that China now still implements foreign exchange controls to some extent, he told a press conference during the Third Session of the 10th National People's Congress, China's top legislature.
China's forex reserve, which rocketed to US$609.9 billion -- second only to Japan -- at the end of 2004, consist largely of trade surpluses, non-trade surpluses and capital investment from overseas, said Zhou, governor of the People's Bankof China.
As a matter of fact, the reserve started to surge not in 2004, but as early as 2002, on the backdrop of China's economic start-up following the Asian financial crisis, he said.
Forex reserve should be denominated in a number of currencies (instead of the US dollar alone) and comprise diversified products in a bid to award off risks, Zhou said in reply to a German reporter's question on whether China would hold more euro-denominated assets.
"We have long attached importance to the holding of a certain amount of euro assets," the central banker said.

State banks to go public soon
The top banker also revealed that the planned share-offerings and listings of state-owned Bank of China (BOC) and China Construction Bank (CCB) are "not too far away".
The banks' stock market debuts should be decided by their board of directors and depend on whether there are "windows of opportunity" on the capital market, he said.
The banks were also consulting overseas and domestic investment banks, their financial advisers and accounting firms regarding the timing, Zhou added.
Both the BOC and CCB have completed financial reshuffle and need to strengthen corporate governance and push on some internal reforms, he said.
The BOC and CCB, considered as financially healthier banks among China's Big Four that also include the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) and Agricultural Bank of China (ABC), are leading the government's latest, aggressive reform in the vital financial system.
They received a combined US$45 billion in foreign exchange reserves at the end of 2003 from the central government aiming to bolster their balance sheets.
The bailout package has helped the BOC and CCB raise their capital adequacy ratios (CARs), being a measure of their available capital in proportion to their outstanding loans, to 8.62 and 11.95 percent, respectively, by the end of 2004.
The BOC's and CCB's non-performing loan (NPL) ratios plunged to 5.12 and 3.7 percent, respectively, by the end of last year, according to a report delivered at the press conference.
The banks have both become joint-stock firms with a governance structure featured by a shareholders' meeting, board of directors, board of supervisors and senior management, which have all started operation.
The BOC has done away with all government ranks of its staff, urging its 230,000-strong employees to vie for new jobs in the bank.
A new company, the central Huijin Investment Co., was inaugurated as major shareholders of the two banks to supervise their restructuring. It is managed by former department heads of the People's Bank of China with a board comprising representatives from the State Administration of Foreign Exchange, Ministry of Finance and the central bank.
On Monday, Zhou Xiaochuan also revealed reform of the other two big state banks -- the ICBC and ABC -- "will also advance in a similar direction".
"We should say that joint-stock reform of the ICBC and ABC will be carried forward on the back of progress and experience achieved on the BOC and CCB."
He gave no details about whether the state would also inject hefty funds into the ICBC and ABC. "Different banks will be given different policies," he said.

(Xinhua News Agency March 7, 2005)

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