Weekend Must Read: How Donald Trump’s Tariff Threats Will Impact Chinese FDI In US And Gadgets Prices For Consumers? A Much Needed In-Depth Look

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It's been long overdue. President Trump's campaign slogans of putting 'America first' might impact the interests of working class citizens more than benefit the country by reducing technology transfer. Just recently, the announcement of metal tariffs resulted in widespread criticism of the administration from all quarters.

While these are claimed to cut down on Chinese predatory tactics, in reality, metal tariffs end up damaging US' trade relationships with its other partners. These include the European Union and Canada, although perceived "friendly" countries are able to apply for exemptions. This being a topic of another post, today we will look at how these and other moves by the Trump administration counter both Chinese Foreign Direct Investment in the United States and standard operating conditions for US firms.

Trump Administration's Aluminum Tariff's Are Just The Beginning Of A Long Brewing US-China Trade War; Subsequent Legislation Will Impact Silicon Valley Tech Giants And Chinese FDI In US Military Technology Companies

The Chinese government's acquisition of Anbang last month sent jitters down Capitol Hill. The investment group owns several properties, including a $2 Billion Waldorf-Astoria Manhattan purchase, in the United States.The Chinese government's control of the insurance group brings into question the future of Anbang's vast portfolio of investments, both in the US and abroad.

The Anbang takeover is just the tip of the iceberg, made of a series of accumulating Chinese investments, American concerns and research reports which surround growing skepticism in Washington around Chinese intentions. Some, including the President, allege that China is playing unfairly.

At one end the country's national laws make it mandatory for foreign firms to share their technological secrets for investment in the mainland. At the other, a growing amount of strategically placed investments by China in the US threaten the latter's technological edge in military, cyberspace and other arenas.

Broadcom; The End For Deals Or Beginning Of Increased CFIUS Power?

Moving over to the technology industry and starting off with consumer tech, recently Singaporean based Broadcom (NASDAQ:AVGO) made a $117 Billion bid for Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM). While Broadcom is not Chinese, the President blocked this transaction, citing national security and global competitiveness as his primary reasons.

He was advised by the Council on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS). CFIUS is a secretive government body, headed by the Treasury department. The committee is responsible for scrutinizing deals which involve a merger or sell off of US companies to foreign entities. Now, under the Trump administration, CFIUS will play a larger role in regulating Chinese investments in particular.

Chinese investment tripled over the year to $46 Billion in 2016, and the recent frostiness has already begun  to demonstrate its impact. Prior to his blocking of the Broadcom-Qualcomm deal, Mr. Trump also used his powers to block Chinese backed Canyon Bridge Capital Partners' bid for Lattice semiconductor; after a CFIUS recommendation. This decision was based on 50 U.S.C. §2170,  known as the Exon-Florio Amendment.

Other tech deals struck down by CFIUS include Chinese conglomerate HNA's bid for US in-flight services firm Global Eagle Entertainment and Ant Financial's proposed acquisition for MoneyGram. Sound a bit too worrying if you're all up for boundary free international business? Well, CFIUS will now get more teeth for its bite.

Enter FIRRMA - The Foreign Investment Risk Review Modernization Act:

Given the increase in Chinese investment in US technology firms, both civilian and military, Congress is now looking to amend several provisions in the current CFIUS implementing statue. The concerns which motivate FIRRMA (H.R 4311) predate President Trump. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif) claimed in January that current loopholes in CFIUS' mandatehave allowed foreign adversaries to weaponize their investments in U.S. companies and transfer sensitive dual-use U.S. technologies, many of which have potential military applications."

FIRRMA focuses primarily towards amendments to the Defense Production Act of 1950 (Pub. L. 81-774). These and others will:

  • Expand CFIUS' authority to cover a) joint ventures, b) minority investments under an expanded definition of critical technology and c) real estate investments near government/military bases.
  • Add cyber-security, sensitive data transfer and previous compliance history evaluations to the definition of national security factors require for assessment of investments originating from certain territories which include China and the Middle East.
  • Require foreign government backed investors whose proposed share of acquisition exceeds 25% to file a declaration filing, increase CFIUS review timeline to 120 days and allow the committee to collect a filing fees for any transaction deemed relevant.

Navigating this increase in authority due to FIRRMA is tricky ground for the US government. At one end, losses estimated from the combined impact of Chinese hostile actions is greater than $225 Billion. At the other, the United States depends heavily on China for imports; these include everyone's favorite, the iPhone and a vast array of cheap products available at mega retailers such as Walmart (NASDAQ:WMT).

According to an updated report by The Commission on the Theft of American Intellectual Property, it is alleged that 87% of all counterfeit goods entering the United States originate from China and Hong Kong. The lion's share of the low end $225 Billion loss is from trade secret theft from US firms, estimated at a low-end cost of $180 Billion. The target of such thefts are industries deemed important in China's 12th Five-Year plan, which include semiconductor and military communications.

The Methodology, Scale And Scope Of Chinese FDI In US Technology:

Right now, there are several ways China is able to gain access to critical US technologies. The current landscape involves blurring the boundary between civilian and military uses of important tech. For example, while you can use Face ID to unlock your iPhone, the military uses it to analyze terrorists.

According to a DIUE report, it's this blurring of boundaries combined with Venture Capital investment tools which allows the Chinese government access to pivotal technologies necessary for military and innovational superiority over the next 50 years.

The primary concern in Washington for technology transfer to China condenses around what the Department of Defense terms as 'Third Offset'. This term covers financial technology, gene editing, robotics, artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles and AR+VR. All are currently under development, by early stage companies and are foundational in nature; meaning that their potential to generate further innovation for other segments as well is massive.

Chinese Investment in the United States; China Investment Monitor (Rhodium Group, LLC)

A brief look at the volume and value of Chinese Venture Capital investments in the US for 2016 will help understand the reasons behind an increase in the clamor for tariffs. Data gathered by the Rhodium Group puts a $8.5 Billion figure for total Chinese investments in Third Offset technologies. The year back in 2015, early technology deals by Chinese investors totaled $12 Billion; making for one-tenth of all the deals for the year.

For the combined time period 2010-2016, Seed and Series A deals were responsible for 58% or 490 of all venture capital deals involving Chinese investors. While all this might suggest a deliberate effort to 'buy' upcoming technologies, there are other reasons behind it as well. Chinese investors are eager to diversify their holdings, and earn more returns in a dilute market.

A participant in a 2017 workshop sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations summarized the problem effectively. According to him, “We know who is investing in whom. [But] we don’t know who owns them. And we don’t know why.

Company:Focus Area:Round Amount ($M):China Investors:Date:Location:
Magic LeapAugmented Reality$798.5Alibaba Group
Enjoyor Group
February 2016Florida
ZooxAutonomous Vehicles$200AID PartnersMay 2016California
Unity TechnologiesGame Development Platform$181China Investment CorporationJuly 2016California
VelodyneLiDAR Sensor Technology$150Baidu August 2016California
NextVRVR Content $80CITIC Guoan, NetEase Capital, China Assets Holdings, CMC HoldingsJuly 2016California
RazerGaming hardware and products$75Hangzhou Liason InteractiveFebruary 2016California
Circle Internet FinancialConsumer payments$60BaiduJune 2016Massachusetts
MetaAugmented Reality$50Tencent, Lenovo Group, Ningbo GQY, Horizons Ventures, Banyan CapitalJune 2016California

The DIUE believes that there are five primary methods through which Chinese government backed VC funds invest in early stage Third Offset technologies. These start off from a recent trend of increasing Greenfield Investments. Through these, an entity establishes its presence by constructing the most basic of facilities, which includes factories and offices. Some Chinese firms investing include GGV capital, GSR ventures and Sinnovation.

Sinnovation in particular, is interesting. It manages three funds, with total $1.2 Billion in capital and 300 investments - 25 of which are in AI. While this in itself is not alarming, the fact that it has received awards from both China's Ministry of Science and Technology and Beijing's Municipal Science and Technology committee is, demonstrating how the Chinese government is often involved in such deals.

Direct Investments by Chinese firms and Private Equities are next on our list. The former includes prominent companies such as Alibaba (NYSE:BABA), Baidu (NASDAQ:BIDU) and Tencent (HKG:0700) with each often focusing on specific technological segments. A particularly insidious method of investment is via SPVs - or Special Purpose Vehicles.

These are entities created with the help of US investment banks and law firms, with the objective of making the chain of capital origins complicated, improving the odds of securing CFIUS approval. Finally, larger firms are often target of direct Acquisitions - which means that a controlling stake is purchased and a new board put in place for management.

The Conclusion: What Does All Of This Mean For Chinese FDI, Silicon Valley Companies And Prices?

Right off the bat, let's start with Chinese FDI in the United States. It peaked in 2016 to a record $53.8 billion and decreased to $27.1 Billion last year, according to data compiled by Stratfor. The Chinese government's official data shows that this is the first time since 2006 that the country's global FDI outflows have declined.

This is a result of the government's efforts to curb down what it dubs as 'irrational investments'. A massive outflow of capital from China threatens overall economic stability; especially when used for buying hotels abroad.

CFIUS is partly to blame as well. The committee handled about 250 cases last year, with approximately half moving forward to the investigation phase, suggests a report by Rhodium. Growing concerns of capital flight, led by a staggering $873 Billion drop in Chinese foreign reserves in 2016 resulted in a tighter regulatory framework for foreign investments.

Combine this with proposed CFIUS overhaul, the impact on Sino based FDI in the US is obvious. It will drop more in upcoming years; especially if the US adopts a broad policy of protectionism which mirrors China's own policies for its home market. Presently, the only sector where the United States mirrors Chinese restrictions tit for tat is transportation; in all others, Beijing leads. This will change if the Trump administration is serious with the current rhetoric of protecting US interests.

Brace For Impact: How Will Apple, Lenovo And Other Tech Firms Fare In Light Of Latest Developments? Are They Likely To Pass On This Impact To Consumers?

Social media giant Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) is in the news these days. Well, if the Trump administration levies tariffs on Chinese tech imports, expect shake ups for Google (NASDAQ:GOOG), Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) and Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT). All three are members of the Open Compute Project, which allows sharing of server designs among partners. The list of OCP members is not limited to the trio; Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) and even Goldman Sachs utilize the organization's services, which is dependent on Chinese suppliers.

At the surface, it's Apple which stands to get hit the hardest by harsher US attitudes. The Cupertino tech giant has a vast array of manufacturing partners in China. The majority of its products are manufactured by the Taiwanese Hon Hai Precision Industry Co (TPE:2354 - (a subsidiary of Terry Gou's Foxconn).

Foxconn's massive Zhengzou complex and contract assemblers Pegatron and Quanta were the top Chinese exporters to the US in FY2016.

Other US companies with manufacturing ties to China include Intel (NASDAQ:INTC), Dell (NASDAQ:DVMT)and even Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN). However, despite the panic reported by the tech media, it's highly unlikely that US tariffs on Chinese imports will impact our favorite tech companies. They will target Chinese manufacturers such as Lenovo and ZTE; share price dips for both reflect market concerns.

At the end of the day, while the media loves to drum up hype, major impacts for consumers do not linger in the near future. Even President Trump's latest announcement is a mere 'suggestion' to the Treasury department. Once changes to the CFIUS become permanent, only then will the ball start to roll. The Chinese government's announcements to reduce restrictions in the country's self-driving automotive industry are also a welcoming sign for thawing attitudes.

Thoughts? Let us know what you think in the comments section below and stay tuned. We'll keep you updated on the latest.