China’s Buffett Bets Big on Consumer Sector
Guo Guangchang, chairman and founder of Fosun, China’s largest private conglomerate, wants to be like Warren Buffett.
When Mr Guo announced last week that his company had bought a stake in Folli Follie, the Greek luxury goods brand, he quoted the example of Mr Buffett twice in half an hour to make clear his intention to transform Fosun from an industrial conglomerate into a long-term strategic investment company, much like Berkshire Hathaway.
“Mr Buffett focuses on investment skills and I always keep one of his quotes in my mind,” he told the Financial Times, citing an aphorism by Benjamin Graham, Mr Buffett’s mentor. “In the short term, the stock market behaves like a voting machine – but in the long term, it acts like a weighing machine.
“When we’re thinking about investing in a company, we won’t watch its stock’s short-term fluctuation ... We feel that a company’s long-term value is the more important factor.”
Long term to Fosun means “at least five years, 10 years or even 20 years”.
Fosun itself has not been operating for 20 years. Mr Guo, 43, co-founded Fosun in 1992 with three fellow graduates of Shanghai’s leading Fudan University, with $4,000.
Last year, China’s authoritative Hurun Rich list named him the mainland’s 43rd-richest person with a personal fortune of $2.6 billion.
In two decades Fosun has grown into one of the most powerful Chinese companies most Westerners have never heard of. Listed in Hong Kong it has investments in pharmaceuticals and healthcare, property, steel, mining and retail. Last year it had revenues of 44 billion yuan ($6.8 billion) and a net portfolio value of $6.3 billion.
This year it formed a $600 million private equity fund with Prudential Financial of the US. It has recently retained John Snow, former US Treasury secretary, to advise its board.
A former adviser says Fosun provides “the key to open a Chinese door”, helping famous foreign brands to exploit China’s vast government-inspired boost in domestic consumption, and making both companies rich in the process.
Mr Guo describes Fosun’s role as a “helper”. The group will leave management of the foreign company to itself. “We respect their right to manage,” he said.
Folli Follie, the Greek retail group with 100 stores in mainland China, is a good example, says Mr Guo. Last week he spent €84.5 million to buy 9.5 per cent of it.
Fosun has also recently built up a stake close to 10 per cent in Club Med, the French leisure group, which aims to make Chinese holidaymakers its second-largest customer base within five years.
Mr Guo, modest and bespectacled, made clear that Club Med and Folli Follie are only the tip of the iceberg of Fosun’s outbound investment ambitions.
He outlined plans for an extended foreign shopping spree that could involve a wide range of brands and businesses that need Fosun’s help to make money in China.
Virtually any foreign company in any industry, listed or unlisted, could be a target, so long as it fits into Fosun’s strategy of “linking China’s growth momentum and the world’s resources to create a strong combination”, he said.
Fosun is not only interested in luxury fashion brands, he emphasized. “All areas of Chinese consumption are growing fast, from the high end to the low end.
“Low-end food and clothing has big growth potential in China – KFC is a good example of that,” he said, citing Yum Brands’ KFC, China’s leading fast-food restaurant.
“We will... focus on areas we are already familiar with – for example, pharmaceuticals, fashion and tourism.”
Additional reporting by Shirley Chen