JPMorgan wants to get back into China

Mnuchin: Trade negotiations are not easy to win
Mnuchin: Trade negotiations are not easy to win

America's biggest bank is taking another shot at China's huge financial markets.

JPMorgan Chase (JPM) is seeking approval from the Chinese government to launch a new brokerage in the world's second biggest economy, just weeks after Beijing relaxed restrictions on foreign ownership of financial companies.

This will be the second attempt by the Wall Street giant to gain a serious foothold in China. In late 2016, it pulled out of a joint venture in which it had a 33% stake.

China's securities regulator said Thursday it had received an application from JPMorgan seeking to establish a joint venture in which the bank would hold a controlling 51% stake. It didn't say how long the approval process would take.

China pledged last November to allow foreign companies to own Chinese banks and investment firms for the first time. It followed through on part of that promise at the end of April, announcing new rules for foreign investment in securities firms and fund managers.

Related: China presents huge rewards for Wall Street -- with big risks

JPMorgan is the third international bank to seek approval to control a Chinese firm since the rule change, following similar submissions from Switzerland's UBS (UBS) and Japan's Nomura (NMR).

A joint venture would allow JPMorgan to trade Chinese stocks, bonds and other assets on behalf of local clients.

China's capital markets are a multi-trillion dollar opportunity for foreign banks. But experts have warned that despite the change in ownership rules, international firms could still face challenges navigating Chinese regulations and competing with well established local players.

HSBC (HBCYF), which traces its roots to Hong Kong, has used its special position to build a major presence in China. Other international banks have long hoped to gain better access to the market to take advantage of its growing wealth.

Before the rule change, foreign banks were only allowed to hold a maximum stake of 49% in a Chinese joint venture -- a restriction that caused complaints from major US firms in the past.

"A lot of these [joint ventures] are hard to govern, badly run, not very successful and don't set the highest standards," JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon said in an interview with Bloomberg TV in China this week.

JPMorgan has a checkered history in China. It was fined $264 million by US regulators in 2016 for improperly hiring "unqualified" children of China's ruling elite to win lucrative business in the country.

Related: UBS tests China's promise to allow foreign-owned banks

Dimon said this week that the bank one day hopes to secure 100% ownership of its operations in the country. China has said that will be possible for securities ventures in three years' time.

"We're building here for a hundred years," Dimon said, referring to the Chinese market.

A JPMorgan spokeswoman in Hong Kong declined to comment further on the bank's plans for China. It currently operates a handful of branches in the country to provide finance for US companies doing business there.

-- Serenitie Wang contributed to this report

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