China Seeks Private-Sector Cash for Warships
The $1.4 billion move comes as China creates its own military-industrial complex, with the private sector seen taking a main role as the country gains a new sense of military assertiveness and deals with a growing budget to develop modern equipment including aircraft carriers and drones.
China, whose military spending is now second only to that of the United States, has unveiled a double-digit increase in its 2013 military budget, with spending on the People’s Liberation Army set to rise 10.7 percent to 740.6 billion renminbi.
"The thinking of those high-ranking officials is changing," said Wang Hexu, an analyst based in Shanghai at Hwabao Securities. "Military asset securitization, or tapping capital markets for military expansion, will be the future trend, and the funding scale will also become bigger and bigger."
He added, "Now aviation and weaponry may also be the next sectors for asset securitization."
China Shipbuilding Industry said it planned to raise the capital by selling as many as 2.2 billion shares to as many as 10 investors.
The investors include two sibling companies, Wuchang Shipbuilding and Dalian Shipbuilding,which are the main builders of Chinese warships.
China Shipbuilding, a key supplier to the People's Liberation Army, said it was the first time China was going to the capital market to fund the buildup of its military.
"The deal will expand the financing channels for China's military defense," China Shipbuilding said in a statement posted on the Shanghai Stock Exchange's Web site. "It would also herald an overall securitization of China's military assets."
Beijing issued new guidelines last year aimed at encouraging private investment in a defense sector traditionally sheltered from competition and public scrutiny.
Such investment would bode well for Chinese shipbuilders that focus on the military compared with commercial shipbuilders like Rongsheng Heavy Industries Group, which fell to a first-half loss and has requested financial help from the government.
China is expected to build one or more aircraft carriers over the next 5 to 10 years, with each carrier fleet costing nearly 122 billion renminbi, China Shipbuilding said, citing forecasts by experts.
China Shipbuilding "has been rumored to be one of those that's going to either build, or fit out the new domestically manufactured aircraft carrier," said Gary Li, a senior maritime analyst based in Beijing at the consulting firm IHS. "Some of the companies that are going to be the main buyers of the shares are all keen to have a stake in the new carrier project," he said. "Everything from batteries to catapults. It's a big task and the Chinese shipbuilding industry is going to need as many stakeholders and investors as it can get."
The Shanghai-listed shares of China Shipbuilding, which had been suspended since May pending the announcement of the deal, jumped more than 10 percent Wednesday morning. The company has a market value of 66 billion renminbi.
Military-related products account for 8.3 percent of China Shipbuilding’s income, according to Hwabao Securities.
China currently has one aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, which was refitted from a Russian-made model.
Considered by military experts to be decades behind U.S. technology, it was originally intended to serve as a floating casino but was turned to military use as a power transition approached in 2012.
China has been at odds with some of its Southeast Asian neighbors over conflicting claims to strings of islets in the resource-rich South China Sea, and Beijing now has the firepower to challenge these rivals.