Bank of China says open to Wall Street buys

TIANJIN, China Sun Sep 28, 2008 2:09pm EDT

A staff member counts Renminbi (RMB) banknotes at a branch of Bank of China in Changzhi, Shanxi province September 16, 2008. REUTERS/Stringer

A staff member counts Renminbi (RMB) banknotes at a branch of Bank of China in Changzhi, Shanxi province September 16, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Stringer

TIANJIN, China (Reuters) - Bank of China, the country's largest foreign-exchange lender, is open to buying into U.S. banks in the wake of the global financial crisis, a senior executive said on Sunday.

Banking industry observers in China are torn over whether the fall in the share prices of many U.S. financial firms presents more of a risk or a buying opportunity.

Zhu Min, vice-president of Bank of China, did not shy away when asked whether his bank was currently considering making investments in Wall Street.

"We are open. From a business point of view, we are looking for all the possible deals everywhere," Zhu told a meeting of the World Economic Forum being held in this northern port city.

While Zhu did not elaborate, his remarks contrast with more cautious comments by senior executives of other Chinese banks on their plans for expanding overseas.

Guo Shuqing, chairman of China Construction Bank Corp said on Saturday that CCB would be relatively careful in considering whether to make purchases abroad, especially in the United States.

Jiang Jianqing, chairman of Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, said on Friday that the country's biggest lender would be careful in exploring U.S. acquisitions during the current turmoil.

Others were more optimistic.

Antony Leung, chairman of greater China for U.S. private-equity house Blackstone Group, said on Sunday that the recent fall in asset prices could present good buying opportunities for Chinese investors, including China Investment Corp (CIC), the $200 billion sovereign wealth fund.

"Right now, whether we're talking about CIC or other investors, I think it's a chance you see only once a century," Leung told the forum.

"When the market is good, it's hard to even get the opportunity to buy a relatively big strategic stake in a good-quality company overseas. Now you have that chance."

The steep losses CIC has incurred since it invested $3 billion in Blackstone last year have been a source of uncertainty among Chinese bankers about venturing abroad.

(Reporting by Jason Subler and Langi Chiang)

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