An investor monitors stock prices at a securities exchange firm in Shanghai, China. (Photographer: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg)

China-Wary Investors in `Wait-and-See' Mode Amid Trade Tensions

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(Bloomberg) -- U.S. business leaders have largely sidelined dealmaking in China amid rising trade tensions. They’ll be watching closely to see if Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s visit to China this week can ease fears.

Dealmakers gathered at the Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills, California, on Monday spoke of a dwindling willingness to do business in China as tariffs on goods worth billions of dollars hang in the balance of trade discussions between the world’s two largest economies. Mnuchin, along with top economic and trade advisers Larry Kudlow, Robert Lighthizer and Peter Navarro, are heading to China this week in an effort to hammer out some form of an agreement.

“We’re seeing pause on deal flow in and out of China,” EY Global Vice Chair of Transaction Advisory Steve Krouskos said in an interview at the conference. “If Mnuchin’s visit is a success, there could be a backlog of deals that could be unleashed.”

Here’s what top dealmakers are saying about U.S.-China tensions:

  • “It creates imponderables that are very, very difficult to price,” said Bain Capital Co-Managing Partner Jonathan Lavine. “There will be a lot of wait and see. When you think about investing in a region, you’re often thinking about local things that are going to impact how you approach the region and now you have the added element of how our government is going to impact our ability to invest in a particular region,” he continued. “We’re really hopeful a lot gets accomplished” during Mnuchin’s visit.
  • “Right now there’s too much tit-for-tat on the trade side,” said Bill Ford, CEO of growth-equity firm General Atlantic. “The two most important things we need to focus on are market access -- let our companies have access to that market in a much more efficient manner -- and two, intellectual property protection,” he said. “If we could focus the trade negotiations on those two topics, we’ll make real progress.”
  • “There’s increasing interdependence between China business and U.S. business, and the reality is that will lead global growth in the next 10 years,” said Barings CEO Thomas Finke. “So while I agree we should be mindful and worried about the trade and the political gamesmanship going on, long term it’s the business interdependence that’s going to drive the relationships.”
  • Emmanuel “Manny” Roman, CEO of Pacific Investment Management Co., said, “I have a certain amount of sympathy for China, because the reality is they have to deal with an administration who deals with trade policy in a very different way than most of us have seen in the past eight years. So they’re also learning as they go. The most likely outcome is you come to some realistic compromise and you put the issue behind you.”

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