More than soccer in deal

Updated: 2012-08-03 13:51

(China Daily)

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That some Chinese investors have bought the second largest stake in Inter Milan is certainly great news for Chinese soccer fans.

Though Serie A, the Italian soccer league, is yet to regain the glamour of the 1990s, buying a stake in an elite Italian club still seems unbelievable to many of its fans in China.

The popularity of Inter in China may explain why its owner Massimo Moratti was "extremely pleased about this deal".

Amid the ongoing economic hardship in Italy, and the whole of Europe, Chinese investors will not only help the club start a new phase, but also spread the brand further in the world's second largest economy, if not the whole of Asia.

However, for Chinese officials supervising the country's huge State assets, the fact that the unexpected investor is China Railway Construction Corporation, one of the world's largest construction companies, should make the deal a case for concern.

With more than $3 trillion of foreign exchange reserves, the world's largest, the Chinese government has good reason to encourage domestic enterprises to invest abroad. But that does not mean they can go on an overseas shopping spree.

Large State-owned enterprises like CRCC are generally financially and technologically better placed than domestic private companies to "go out". But they are not necessarily smarter, especially at tapping into overseas markets. That's why the government requires these domestic "champions" to focus on overseas expansion in their core business areas.

CRCC may argue that the deal is related to its core business because one of its subsidiaries will work with Inter to achieve the goal of building a new stadium for the club. Yet, in the absence of detailed financial terms of the acquisition, becoming the second largest shareholder of Inter will be open to doubts.

Partial ownership of an Italian soccer club should not be the investment goal of an enterprise like CRCC. And if the construction company insists that the stake in Inter is just an investment for its construction work, the State assets' watchdog should find out if the wall it has built to prevent reckless overseas investments is too low to prevent State-owned enterprises from jumping over it.