China's markets have disappointed investors in 2013, but they've bounced back in a big way over the past few months. Hong Kong's Hang Seng (HSIINDICES:^HSI) has jumped more than 13% over the past three months and, while the index lost 1.3% over the past week, China's making moves to embrace foreign business.
The country's known for tight governmental controls over many industries, but the establishment of a new free-trade zone, and a loosening of bank controls, highlight recent actions that Beijing's taken to relax its grip on businesses. Is this the start of a rebound for China investors?
All eyes on Shanghai
An 11 square-mile sector of Shanghai is turning into China's latest attempt to experiment with its financial sector and business approach. China has promised to open up shipping and trade, while pursuing the ability for smaller Chinese firms to secure loans and financial assistance from banks. This is part of its attempts to revitalize the country's private sector after its recent cash crunch and corruption crackdown.
Beijing's planning to loosen restrictions on foreign banks and investment in the free trade zone, intending for Shanghai to grow to rival Hong Kong, Singapore, Tokyo, and other leading economic nexuses of the Pacific. While critics have pointed out that the country's economic ambitions can only be tested at a local level in Shanghai -- and that expanding the program nationally will present much more of a challenge to Beijing as it tries to stimulate a slowing economy -- Shanghai's success or failure will help show just how willing China is to embrace a more open economy.
That's a pivotal shift for investors, who have grown frustrated with Beijing's tight control on foreign businesses. It's an especially interesting proposition for tech investors in light of the Chinese government's plan to open up the Shanghai zone to foreign tech firms, including some Internet services companies. Leading Internet services firms such as Google and Facebook have been stiff-armed in China in the past, and if these companies can establish a foothold in the world's most populous nation, it'll open up a bevy of new expectations for investors.
Already, a few tech firms have moved in on Shanghai. Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) announced earlier this week a joint venture with major Shanghai-based media firm BesTV in a $237 million investment. Unconfirmed reports have claimed that the partnership's the prelude to launching an entertainment and games console dubbed the "Bestpad" in Shanghai, a move made possible by China's relaxation of its 13-year games console ban. Microsoft's waxed and waned in its fight to establish itself among consumer tech's leading firms, and if it can find a niche in China, it'll make a great move to combatting the rising profile of high-flying rivals like Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL).
Speaking of Apple, the leading tech company and iPhone producer is expected soon to make its reported deal with China Mobile (NYSE:CHL) official. China Mobile is the largest wireless carrier on Earth, and a deal would allow Apple its best route yet to penetrate the lucrative Chinese market and take advantage of the country's rising middle class and urban populations. Apple already has deals with China Unicom and China Telecom, but China Mobile would allow Apple to make a much more serious China push.
The China Mobile network boasts a whopping 700 million subscribers in total, and helps Apple's already impressive iPhone numbers rise higher. For the wireless company, securing Apple's partnership would put it on equal footing with China Unicom and China Telecom, and impress investors who have been frustrated by the stock's 4.5% decline year to date.
Fool contributor Dan Carroll has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Apple. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, China Mobile, and Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.