Anbang’s US$6.5 billion acquisition of Strategic Hotels & Resorts was the largest Chinese FDI transaction in the US last year.  Photo: AFP
Anbang’s US$6.5 billion acquisition of Strategic Hotels & Resorts was the largest Chinese FDI transaction in the US last year. Photo: AFP

Chinese insurance firm Anbang’s global investment spree has come to a screeching halt, as the company faces both a crackdown on capital flight and on the country’s insurance industry. The WSJ reports this week on risks facing the company amid the regulatory crackdown:

“Many of the assets Anbang has acquired—such as New York’s Waldorf Astoria—may be hard to sell quickly. That means Anbang could face a problem over any such assets it financed with shorter-term funding from things like the sale of high-yield products. If Anbang can’t roll over that funding, it may face a cash squeeze that could force it to sell assets, make it unable to repay investors and lead to a broader credit crunch in the markets. Analysts say Anbang Life still has plenty of capital and liquid assets on hand.

‘Anbang is already slowing on long-term investments that might not be liquid,’ says Julian Lin, analyst with Shanghai-based consulting firm Z-Ben Advisors. ‘How its business plays out will still need to be monitored.’”

The Financial Times also reports Friday that Anbang head Wu Xiaohui, despite the firm’s denials, has been barred from leaving China, and that politics lurks under the surface of Anbang’s troubles:

“It is Anbang’s participation in political sniping at Wang Qishan, China’s powerful anti-corruption tsar, that has fascinated China watchers…

For the past month, Mr Wang has been attacked on Twitter and in overseas Chinese media by an exiled businessman whose former partner, a senior security official, is in jail.

This week, Anbang joined in the fray with an open letter to an investigative journalist whose long career exposing financial malfeasance has enjoyed Mr Wang’s backing. The letter from Anbang to Hu Shuli, editor of Caixin magazine, which Anbang has previously threatened to sue, announced the filing of a suit in Canada and included a dig at Mr Wang: ‘Did you seek someone in power to get involved in this matter with the goal of bashing us before the court case and intervening in justice?’”

An article published at the end of April by Caixin raised questions about Anbang’s ownership structure and signaled the firm had become a target of some in Beijing.

The apparent reference to Wang Qishan’s backing of the Caixin editor, along with exiled billionaire Guo Wengui’s accusations and threats, represent an extremely rare instance of Beijing’s dirty laundry being aired publicly.

The drama is also coming ahead of an important leadership meeting in the Fall, during which the Communist Party of China’s top leadership will see big changes, and Wang Qishan’s role is at the center of speculation. Already past the unofficial retirement age for officials, many suspected Xi Jinping would like Wang to stay on in his current post for a second term, but the accusations from Guo Wengui may already have made that politically expensive for Xi.