“WHEN it comes to the meaning of life, we will all return to zero one day.” So philosophised Wu Xiaohui, a Chinese tycoon, as he reflected on his success in 2015. Little did he realise how soon his words would be proved true. He founded his firm, Anbang, as a small car-insurance company just over a decade ago. By 2017 it ranked among the world’s biggest insurers, with some $300bn of assets, including stakes in hotels and financial firms in America, Europe and Asia. But then, even more vertiginous than its ascent, came its fall. On February 23rd China’s government said it had taken over Anbang and would prosecute Mr Wu for economic crimes.
Rarely in corporate history has a giant grown and collapsed so quickly. But Anbang’s tale is also interesting for what it reveals about China’s economic landscape. It is the clearest demonstration that regulators are serious about defusing debt risks that have built up in recent years. And it reveals the murky...Continue reading