JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon thinks the risk-reward calculus on China is just ‘okay’

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Back in May, on his first visit to China since the start of the COVID pandemic, JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon was ebullient.

The bank boss was excited to relaunch the company’s investor conferences in Shanghai, saying it helped make the world “better off.” The bank’s economists were optimistic about China’s post-COVID GDP growth. And Beijing regulators had previously given the green light for the Wall Street Bank to take full control of its China mutual fund, alongside JPMorgan’s wholly-foreign-owned securities and futures companies.

Five months later, Dimon is more pessimistic. On Monday, the Wall Street CEO said he’s now “highly cautious” when it comes to the Chinese economy, according to Reuters

Speaking at a Barclays conference in New York, Dimon said the “risk-reward” from China, once “very good,” was now just “OK.”

“The risk is bad,” he continued.

Dimon’s dour view of the Chinese economy matches the view of the bank he runs. In April, JPMorgan economists said they expected China’s economy to grow by 6.4%, an increase of 0.4 percentage points from their earlier forecast, pointing to a reopening rebound in consumption and travel.

JPMorgan had changed its tune by August, slashing its 2023 GDP growth forecast to 4.8%, below China’s current growth target of about 5%. 

The frequent revisions show the difficulty in understanding China’s economy as it emerges from years of COVID-zero. 

China’s post-COVID recovery is losing steam due to both weak domestic consumption and a slowing global economy. Retail sales and industrial production in July rose at rates lower than economist expectations. Exports in August fell by 8.8% year-on-year. China is also suffering a youth joblessness crisis, hitting 21.3% in June. (China has since stopped publishing the youth unemployment rate). A shaky real estate sector, exemplified by developer Country Garden’s attempts to avoid a default, is also dragging down the economy. 

China will report August retail sales, industrial activity, and home sales on Friday.

‘Good times and bad’

Dimon is one of a handful of Western CEOs to travel to China since its reopening late last year. (Apple’s Tim Cook, Tesla’s Elon Musk, Intel’s Pat Gelsinger and Qualcomm’s Cristiano Amon are some of the other CEOs of U.S.-based companies to make the trip over to China.)

In an interview with Bloomberg during his visit in May, Dimon said he had “enormous respect for the Chinese people,” and pledged that JPMorgan would stay in the country “hopefully through good times and bad.”

JPMorgan’s CEO also brushed off concerns about a growing rift between the U.S. and China, predicting that a likely decline in trade “won’t be a decoupling, and the world will go on.”

But even then, Dimon warned that “more uncertainty, somewhat caused by the Chinese government,” could hurt investor confidence. 

The country’s private sector is still recovering from a years-long regulatory crackdown that’s slowed down dealmaking and reduced investor appetite.

Chinese authorities now need to approve listings in overseas markets like the U.S. and Hong Kong, leaving many IPO candidates waiting for the green light to go public. Not a single U.S. bank has been involved this year in a mainland Chinese IPO, as of June, reported the Financial Times

U.S. investors are also wary of investing in China, given the worsening relationship between Washington and Beijing. Chinese venture capital funds are now struggling to raise money at the levels seen just a few years ago, according to The Information

China’s new data security laws are also complicating matters for banks like JPMorgan. The CEO of the bank’s China fund manager, Eddy Wong, told an industry conference in June that “more and more resources and people” are needed to comply with the need to protect Chinese data, according to Nikkei Asia.

Beijing is also cracking down on firms that provide analysis on China’s economy, even raiding one expert advisory firm on national security and espionage grounds. Western consulting firms are now slowing their business in China, with Bain telling new hires in the country to wait as late as 2025 to start, reported the Financial Times in July.

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