Search

 

Cablegate: Taiwan Banks - Too Much Money but Low Profits

VZCZCXRO4832
RR RUEHGH
DE RUEHIN #2525/01 3300203
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 260203Z NOV 07
FM AIT TAIPEI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 7443
RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHDC
INFO RUCPDOC/USDOC WASHDC
RUEHBK/AMEMBASSY BANGKOK 3889
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING 7468
RUEHUL/AMEMBASSY SEOUL 9060
RUEHGP/AMEMBASSY SINGAPORE 7061
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO 9269
RUEHML/AMEMBASSY MANILA 0197
RUEHJA/AMEMBASSY JAKARTA 4145
RUEHKL/AMEMBASSY KUALA LUMPUR 3827
RUEHHI/AMEMBASSY HANOI 3404
RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA 4646
RUEHWL/AMEMBASSY WELLINGTON 1912
RUEHHK/AMCONSUL HONG KONG 8757
RUEHGH/AMCONSUL SHANGHAI 1491
RUEHGZ/AMCONSUL GUANGZHOU 0675

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 TAIPEI 002525

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE PLEASE PASS USTR
STATE FOR EAP/RSP/TC, EAP/EP
USTR FOR KATZ AND STRATFORD
USDOC FOR 3132/USFCS/OIO/EAP
TREASURY FOR OASIA/TTYANG AND HAARSAGER
TREASURY ALSO PASS TO FEDERAL RESERVE/BOARD OF
GOVERNORS, SAN FRANCISCO FRB/TERESA CURRAN, AND NEW YORK FRB MARI
BOLIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: EINV EFIN ECON PINR TW
SUBJECT: Taiwan Banks - Too Much Money but Low Profits


Summary
-------
1. (SBU) Summary. Taiwan's banking system is stable but anemic,
financial analysts and local U.S. bank representatives told
officials from the San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank. The banking
sector faces low profitability and too much competition. Taiwan's
large banks have excess liquidity due to a high savings rate and low
domestic investment. They are largely unable to follow corporate
customers overseas, namely to China. Local banks have high hopes
of developing a potentially lucrative asset management business, but
today much of Taiwan's savings and investments are flowing out of
Taiwan, chasing higher returns and perhaps avoiding tax. Although
regulators have begun financial sector reforms, progress is too slow
and state-owned or state-controlled banks still hold over half of
Taiwan's banking assets. Little will change before the presidential
election in March. End Summary.

2. (SBU) Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco Senior Vice
President Stephen M. Hoffman, Jr. and Senior Manager Walter Yao
visited Taiwan November 7-8 and met with a variety of local
representatives of U.S. banks as well as local financial analysts
who provided their assessments of Taiwan's financial sector and its
regulatory and supervisory framework.

Taiwan Financial System - Stable Medium-Term Outlook
--------------------------------------------- -------

3. (SBU) Analysts at Taiwan Ratings, the local partner of Standard
& Poor's, place Taiwan at level 4 "moderate risk" on a scale of 1
to 10, with one being the most stable. They highlight the key risk
as profitability, which last year was "close to zero," with a 0.2%
to 0.3% return-on-assets. This is low in absolute terms, and weak
compared to the rest of the region. Taiwan Ratings, along with
other analysts, noted that this poor performance was in part due to
too many banks and stagnant demand for loans. Although much of
corporate Taiwan has relocated manufacturing operations out of
Taiwan, particularly to China, Taiwan banks cannot follow them
there. Domestic demand is still sluggish. One equity analyst called
Taiwan's financial sector "the worst-performing in the region - bar
none."

4. (SBU) Taiwan's high savings rate, currently 26% of income,
means that banks are awash in deposits, creating excess liquidity.
This excess liquidity in turn drives down interest rates, which then
triggers capital outflow as depositors chase higher returns
elsewhere. But competition in Taiwan is fierce. There are 41
banks competing for business, and over half of Taiwan's banking
market share is held by state-owned or state-controlled banks. This
leads to intense competition which erodes margins. It can also lead
to other problems. Taiwan Ratings highlighted the credit card
crisis that appeared in late 2005. With excess deposits, banks
looked for high-margin products and began heavily promoting credit
cards. Over-competition led to a loss of underwriting discipline
and banks wound up holding substantial amounts of sub-prime consumer
loans, many of which had to be written off.

Regulators Slow, but on the Right Track
---------------------------------------
5. (SBU) Taiwan Ratings largely praised the efforts of Taiwan
regulators to stabilize the banking system and to advance financial
reforms. They lamented, however, that many of their actions seemed
driven by political considerations. They cited the instance of Bowa
Bank, which eventually was taken over by the authorities. Taiwan
Ratings claimed that the authorities, rather than acting quickly
when the bank's problems became apparent, instead directed a
state-owned bank to prop it up with interim deposits. This simply

TAIPEI 00002525 002 OF 003


prolonged and worsened the problem. They also criticized the
regulators as not being transparent enough and not moving fast
enough on financial reforms. Other analysts echoed these concerns.


6. (SBU) Two major goals of Taiwan's financial sector reform are
to reduce the number of banks and to decrease the percentage of bank
assets held by state-owned or state-controlled banks. After
industry consolidation, regulators want to wind up with three to
five "national champions," local banks each with over 10% market
share. Although the number of banks has already been reduced from
41 to 56, most of the consolidation has involved small banks, and no
single bank holds 10% market share. Efforts to divest state-owned
banks have been hampered by strong unions and political
considerations.

7. (SBU) Politics divided the analysts. Many called the current
DPP government inexperienced in financial management and noted that
staff in key leadership positions changed constantly. Others,
however, praised the regulators as "on the right track," although
lamenting that they needed to move faster. Our most hopeful
interlocutor stated that although the DPP got a rough start, it has
finally assembled a good financial regulatory team that knows what
it needs to do. Political considerations, however, were likely to
slow its work. All agreed that not much would happen before the
March presidential election.

Local Reps of U.S. Firms Agree
------------------------------
8. (SBU) Local representatives of U.S. banks echoed many of the
analysts' views. Not only did they think the pace of reform should
be faster, they expressed concern about what they called "ad hoc
regulation" and complained that policies and rules were not always
clear. U.S. bankers also worried that regulators were not
independent enough. They also argued that regulators needed to make
reporting requirements less burdensome. At the same time, however,
they noted that Taiwan regulators, unlike many others in the region,
are friendly to foreign banks and encourage them to buy distressed
local banks and enter the market. Six banks have already been
purchased by foreign institutions or private equity firms.

9. (SBU) U.S. bankers note that international banks are in a very
strong position to be competitive in Taiwan. They will have access
to Taiwan customers and can service them most anywhere in the world,
including China, offer global asset management services, and operate
with international best practices. Foreign banks are already tough
competitors in Taiwan. Citibank, for example, is a major player in
Taiwan retail banking and generates more profits with 11 branches
and 3,000 employees than local competitors with over 150 branches,
according to one U.S. banker.

Do Taiwan Banks Have a Future?
------------------------------
10. (SBU) With competition from the state-controlled banks and no
way to lend to Taiwan firms in China, how will Taiwan banks grow?
Analysts note that although Taiwan banks are still locked out of
China, they are making headway in Vietnam, although it will be
probably two to three years before this expansion positively affects
their bottom line. Most believe that China will eventually open up,
but in China they will have to compete with low-cost local players
as well as some of the world's most accomplished international
banks. Local analysts see opportunity in China over the long term,
but U.S. bank representatives in Taiwan caution that it won't be
easy. Their strong point will be their knowledge of their Taiwan
customers. One analyst noted that Taiwan banks are trying to reach
out to Taiwan customers in China via branches in Hong Kong, but like

TAIPEI 00002525 003 OF 003


their parent banks, these branches hold deposits far in excess of
their loan portfolios.

11. (SBU) Most analysts see the best opportunities for Taiwan
banks in fixing things at home and turning more attention to asset
management. Taiwan households hold about US$1.3 trillion in assets,
of which 41% is cash. Combine this with an aging population and a
new government-mandated pension plan, Taiwan has a real need for
wealth-management services. Excess liquidity has driven down
interest rates and has led to capital outflows as Taiwan people
chase higher returns elsewhere. Comparatively high tax rates also
keep money out of the country. "It is quite sad," remarked Sophia
Chen, head of Research at Merrill Lynch, "that Taiwan money has been
helping private banks in Hong Kong and Singapore" build their wealth
management business.

12. (SBU) Chen forecasts that by making a few changes, the Taiwan
authorities can give a big push to developing Taiwan's wealth
management business. First she suggests cutting the inheritance
tax, which at its current maximum rate of 50% compares unfavorably
to zero in Hong Kong and 5-10% in Singapore. Unlike cutting
individual and corporate income tax rates, which would have a larger
impact on government revenues, inheritance tax does not generate
near as much revenue. It would also encourage households to keep
more of their assets in Taiwan. Tax avoidance, she said, is one of
the main reasons Taiwan investors choose to take their assets
offshore.

13. (SBU) It is also possible that there will be a pick-up in
corporate loan activity in Taiwan. One analyst argues that as costs
quickly rise in China, Taiwan becomes a more attractive
manufacturing location, particularly if Taiwan authorities lower
corporate tax rates and streamline some investment procedures such
as acquisition of land. The cap on China investments at 40% of a
company's net worth also limits the amount of funds that firms want
to bring into Taiwan.

Comment
-------
14. (SBU) Comment: Virtually all of the analysts and U.S. bankers
told the same story: Taiwan's financial system is stable and it
regulators are on the right track, but further financial reform is
needed to strengthen Taiwan banks. Unless Taiwan's regulators pick
up the pace, however, Taiwan clients are likely to be sending more
of their business overseas. End Comment.

15. (SBU) This cable has been cleared by Walter Yao, Senior
Manager, Country Analysis Unit, Federal Reserve Bank of San
Francisco.

YOUNG

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
World Headlines

 

UN: As COVID Deaths Pass Two Million Worldwide, Guterres Warns Against Self-Defeating ‘Vaccinationalism'

With more than two million lives now lost worldwide to COVID-19, the UN Secretary-General appealed on Friday for countries to work together and help each other to end the pandemic and save lives. In a video statement , Secretary-General António Guterres ... More>>

Gordon Campbell: On The Washington Riot And The Georgia Results

Hong Kong and Washington DC. On the same morning, the tyrants in power in Beijing and their counterpart in the White House have shown how they refuse to accept the legitimacy of any different points of view, and the prospect of losing power… More>>

UN: Violent Attempt At US Capitol To ‘overturn’ Election, Shocking And Incendiary

A group of independent UN rights experts released ... More>>

UN: Guterres To Seek Second Five-year Term
António Guterres will be seeking a second five-year term as UN Secretary-General, which would begin in January 2022.... More>>