SHANGHAI (Reuters) - China’s new banking regulator Shang Fulin will bring experience in pressing reforms and a hallmark cool-headed approach as he takes oversight of a sector trying to digest the effects of a lending binge that has left banks with mounting piles of debt.
Shang, top securities regulator since late 2002, has proven adept at navigating choppy financial waters, managing to introduce a raft of much-needed reforms to stock and futures markets despite investor jitters over their potential impact.
As head of the China Securities Regulatory Commission (CSRC), Shang oversaw a series of innovations, including the launch of a Nasdaq-style second board, index futures and margin trading, as well as the unloading of a large overhang of previously untradable shares in state companies.
He also marshaled a crackdown on market manipulation and insider trading to try to stamp out rampant problems that have eaten at the country’s stock markets since their inception more than two decades ago.
Shang brings to his new post as head of the China Banking Regulatory Commission (CBRC) a meticulous, steady approach that many in the securities sector say has been behind some of the boldest stock market reforms the country has ever seen.
“Shang rode the tide of the market’s need for reform,” said one analyst at a top brokerage who asked not to be identified.
“He is a very cautious person, so all the reforms were the result of years of careful consideration to make sure there would be no major risks.”
Shang also brings a wealth of experience in the banking sector when he replaces Liu Mingkang, who has reached retirement age after about a decade at the CBRC helm, as part of a broader reshuffle of China’s leadership.
Shang took over the top job at the CSRC in December 2002 in an earlier reshuffle, under which his predecessor Zhou Xiaochuan became central bank governor.
He was president of Agricultural Bank of China (1288.HK) (601288.SS), one of the country’s Big Four state banks, between 2000 and 2002 and vice governor of the People’s Bank of China from 1996 to 2000.
Shang was born in 1951 in Jinan, Shandong province. He was a former military officer and started his finance career at the central bank in 1973. He holds a doctorate degree in finance from Southwestern University of Finance and Economics in the city of Chengdu.
Industry players say his record at the CSRC suggests he will not come out with rapid, big-bang moves to address the problems overhanging the banking sector, which include gradually rising bad loans and overextended balance sheets among some lenders.
When Shang took the reins of the CSRC in 2002, the agency was widely seen as responsible for a prolonged stock market slump, as two previous attempts to make huge numbers of state-owned shares in companies tradable were forced to be aborted after they seriously hurt investor confidence.
After two years of low-profile but extensive study, Shang initiated a fresh reform to tackle the highly sensitive issue with a market-oriented approach, allowing holders of tradable and non-tradable shares to negotiate compensation between themselves.
At one point when the stock market fell below 1,000 points to historic lows, Shang famously said: “Once the bow is pulled, there’s no way the arrow will turn around,” underscoring his determination. The reform helped trigger a stock market bull run.
Unswerving he might be, but he also holds his cards close to his chest.
Investors have been keen to know for months when the next big expected reform to the market might take place — the introduction of an “international board” in Shanghai for the listing of shares of foreign companies and “red chip” Chinese firms incorporated and listed overseas.
At a forum in Shanghai in May, Shang broke from the script of his speech to address the issue on everyone’s mind.
“The international board is coming closer and closer,” he said, prompting chuckles among some in the crowd as he stayed true to form, giving no detail away until he was ready to.
Additional reporting by Samuel Shen; Editing by Brian Rhoads