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Western Financial Firms Slash Operations In China As Concerns About Country’s Lagging Economy Grow

Western financial firms are cutting their operations in China as the country’s economy fails to show significant signs of improvement, weighing on companies’ profits, Reuters reported Monday.

Fidelity International Ltd., Morgan Stanley and Legal & General are among the financial firms that have either suspended plans for expansion or cut jobs focused on the region since the beginning of the year, with Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Citigroup cutting investment banking jobs focused on China in the last year, according to Reuters. China’s economy failed to pick up steam in 2023, growing only 5.2% for the year, lower than the 6% rate that was normal prior to 2020, as the effects of years-long COVID-19 lockdown policies continue to take their toll.

“As the outlook for the Chinese stock market and economy remain sluggish, [foreign] firms will inevitably take steps to streamline their businesses especially since most would have gone through a hiring spree in earlier years,” Yoon Ng, Global Asset Management Advisory Principle at financial technology company Broadridge, told Reuters.

Amid poor projections of future economic growth, foreign investors pulled billions from China and Hong Kong in 2023. The Institute of Internal Finance estimated at the end of last year that around $65 billion would exit the Chinese financial system in 2024.

While financial firms are limiting their operations in the country in the short term, most are not pulling out completely in hopes that China will be able to economically recover, according to Reuters. More companies are expected to shrink operations in the country as poor earnings and a lack of deals continue to weigh on profits.

“We are hearing some more investment banks and securities firms in Hong Kong [are] already looking at staff scale reduction,” Sid Sibal, vice president of Greater China at recruitment firm Hudson, told Reuters.

The People’s Bank of China has announced a number of measures to boost the country’s struggling economy, including facilitating credit to struggling sectors while lowering interest rates and loosening capital requirements for banks.

The amount of money for both onshore and offshore initial public offerings for Chinese companies has dropped 80% in the first quarter year-over-year, according to Reuters. In that same time, the value of merger and acquisition deals involving China dropped by 36%.

Adding to China’s economic woes is a slump in the country’s real estate market, which continued its downward spiral in March with home values dropping 2.7% year-over-year, according to Business Insider. Commercial developers are also heavily in debt, with one of China’s top developers being ordered to be liquidated in January after it was unable to create a restructuring plan.

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