International investments are getting diminishing returns in China. While it’s still a profitable destination for multinational capital, financiers like JPMorgan Chase would be willing to say goodbye—if they had to.
“I think it’s good for an American bank to be there,” said Jamie Dimon, Chief Executive Officer at JPMorgan Chase, at an event on Wednesday. “If for some reason the American government says ‘No, you can’t do that anymore,’ then so be it.”
The remarks, made at the New York Times Dealbook Summit, come during an increasingly frosty period between the two superpowers. While China was once a poster child for the benefits of multinational investment, those days are now over, as worsening demographics have slowed the country’s economic growth. Protectionist trade policies and capital restrictions have added additional hurdles to cross-Pacific investments.
During the summit, Dimon deflected questions about his bank’s investments in China while downplaying perceptions that the country posed a strategic threat.
“They have a very complex neighborhood,” Dimon said. “They’ve done a good job of angering all the countries around them, they have to import 10 million barrels of oil a day, [and] they have terrible demographics.”
While China is still a profitable place for investment, the post-Cold War gold rush is nearing its end, according to Richard Bove, a banking analyst at Odeon Capital Group, who says that the opening of the Chinese and Russian economies created huge opportunities for global investors. But the increasing chill between Washington and Beijing, and regulatory hurdles for new investments, have made those opportunities fewer and further between.
“You no longer have that free movement of trade and free movement of money, which means that whole segments of the world financial system are going to be more difficult for JPMorgan to operate in,” Bove explained. “China is simply not going to be the bonanza that it was once thought to be.”
China is now attracting less capital from abroad, as financiers look to other destinations for their investments. According to government figures, foreign investment flows to China turned negative earlier this month, for the first time in 25 years.
“The Chinese economy is just slowing down,” said Russel Price, Chief Economist for Ameriprise Financial. “That’s just the nature of the landscape, for both foreign and domestic competitors.”
During the 1990’s, China’s meteoric rise was largely fueled by the migration of agricultural workers to cities, which gave huge boosts to industrial productivity, Price noted. But increasing urbanization, combined with the effects of the one-child policy, mean there are now fewer people entering the Chinese workforce. Some 63% of the population now lives in cities, according to demographic data, and the urbanization rate is now slowing.
While some investments are still highly profitable, areas like technology and manufacturing have greater challenges, Price added. China’s subsidies for favored industries—and dubious protections for intellectual property—have made it increasingly risky for foreign manufacturers to site their operations there.
At the Dealbook summit, Dimon also discussed the backlash against ESG financing, which has led Texas to prohibit ESG-friendly financiers from underwriting municipal bonds.
“I think it’s ridiculous,” Dimon said, adding that JPMorgan is a leading investor in both green energy and fossil fuel companies, as well as banking many Texan government bodies. “They’ll probably reconsider that at some point.”