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Dimon says JPMorgan will be in China for good and bad times

JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon is shown in this undated photo.   (Cyril Marcilhacy/Bloomberg)
By Bloomberg News

Jamie Dimon said JPMorgan Chase will be in China in both good and bad times, remaining committed to doing business in the Communist Party-ruled nation as political tensions grow.

Echoing comments made by U.S. officials, the chief executive officer of the largest U.S. bank said on Wednesday that he doesn’t foresee a decoupling between the West and China, while acknowledging that the situation is “far more complex now.”

“Over time there’ll be less trade,” Dimon said in a Bloomberg Television interview at the bank’s annual Global China Summit in Shanghai.

“It’ll take years for this thing to take place, but it won’t be a decoupling and the world will go on.”

Dimon’s remarks, made during his first trip to the mainland since 2019, come as China-U.S. relations are at their worst in decades.

A sluggish Chinese economy, restrictions in the U.S. and a crackdown by Beijing on foreign businesses are forcing global banks to have a fundamental rethink about their ambitions in the country, with revised profit goals and job cuts.

His visit coincided with that of another U.S. business titan, Elon Musk, who met with China’s Foreign Minister Qin Gang on Tuesday and is expected to visit Tesla’s Shanghai factory.

In his meeting with Qin, the billionaire said the interests of China and the U.S. are intertwined, according to a government statement.

The release cited him saying that Tesla opposes decoupling from China and is willing to keep expanding in the country.

Dimon, meanwhile, met with Shanghai party chief Chen Jining, according to the municipal government.

Chen, who also sits on the Chinese Communist Party’s Politburo, said he hopes JPMorgan could help bring more international financial institutions to Shanghai and provide insight to the city’s development.

Dimon said he wouldn’t comment on his discussions with Chinese officials.

Calling himself an American patriot who would follow the U.S. government, the JPMorgan chief said he’s bidding to help the Chinese people.

China has its own problems, including “scary” 20% youth unemployment, he said. “We’re here, we’re going to support the Chinese people.”

JPMorgan is hosting more than 2,500 guests from 37 countries at its two-day summit.

The world’s second-largest economy is still a potent lure, but global investors are seeking fresh information to recalibrate their approach after three years of strict Covid restrictions and as President Xi Jinping began his unprecedented third term.

Top executives from financial firms such as Goldman Sachs and HSBC have also visited in recent months and met with Chinese officials to boost ties with Beijing.

Beijing has over the years launched sweeping crackdowns on private sectors from technology to education, and enacted laws including the Data Security Law to make sure businesses toe the line.

Its recent actions – with office raids on consulting firms and detention of a Japanese pharmaceutical employee – have also spooked foreign executives.

China’s economic recovery is losing momentum after an initial burst in consumer and business activity early in the year, with the latest data for April showing weaker than estimated growth in industrial output, retail sales and fixed investment.

It further clouded the prospect for Wall Street banks to conquer the nation’s $60 trillion market more than three years after the grand financial opening.

Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley are among banks scaling back ambitious expansion plans and profit goals, and jettisoning China-focused investment bankers as a deteriorating geopolitical climate and Xi’s willingness to sacrifice economic priorities for security concerns rock the private sector and throttle dealmaking.

“America is still open for business, but Chinese companies can be a little concerned,” Dimon said in the interview.

JPMorgan has been among the most ambitious in expanding its China footprint.

The U.S. bank gained full control of a mutual fund joint venture early this year, after adding ownerships of a futures unit in 2020 and a securities business in 2021.

The firm in late 2021 also won approval to invest about $389 million in a China Merchant Bank asset management subsidiary.

As onshore deal flows have dwindled, many Wall Street banks are retrenching their workforce in Asia, with China-focused bankers among the worst hit.

JPMorgan cut about 30 investment banking jobs in Asia-Pacific in late February, with a majority of them based in Greater China, people familiar with the matter had said.

In a separate interview, Mark Leung, JPMorgan’s China chief executive, said its expansion in the market is taking longer than expected.

Still, the bank has doubled head count and quadrupled its license in the past four years and the current slowdown isn’t a concern in the long term, Asia-Pacific Chief Executive Filippo Gori told Bloomberg Television in an interview from the summit.

More investment will be made in Japanese and Australian markets in the meantime to take advantage of growth potential.

Although deal making has slowed globally, Gori said the deal pipeline in Asia could recover in the second half of 2023 into next year.

“I believe that the second half of the year, whether it’s China or the rest of Asia Pacific, will have a flurry of activity coming up,” he said.