February 2021. As usual, I sat in the president’s office and watched the monitor. When it rang, I picked up the ringing phone right away. I could hear Secretary Park’s voice. “We’re all here, boss.”
I got up from my seat, fixed my jacket and left the office. Secretary Park accompanied me. Instead of taking the elevator, we went down just one floor using the emergency stairs. Right below the president’s office was the conference room. I walked in and said to Secretary Park, “What about wiretaps or anything?”
“I’ve checked everything.”
“Yes. Good job.” I entered the conference room with that remark. Inside the conference room, four people were standing waiting for me: Vice President Jang, Director Kim, Director Chung, and Director Kang. The four people had all been the core of the company that had been supporting me since the founding of Invictus Investment. They bent their heads to me and greeted me, “Are you here, boss?”
I sat in the chief’s seat at the end of the table, gesturing at the same time. “Sit down, please.”
The four executives sat down at my instruction. I then winked at Secretary Park and he came forward and said, “Before we start the meeting, Vice President Jang and all the directors, please take out your cell phones and give them to me.”
Vice President Jang and the directors looked up at Secretary Park and then at me. I nodded. They rummaged through their pants and took out their cell phones.
“Please understand. Today’s meeting is a serious matter, so I have to pay special attention to security. It’s not that I don’t trust you, but the smartphones can be used deceptively. I’ll return your cell phones right after the meeting.”
As I spoke, four people bent their heads. Secretary Park took them one by one, bowed to me and left the main conference room. Now there were only five people left in the big conference room, including me. I took a look at the left and right sides. Vice President Jang and Director Chung on the right, and Director Kim and Director Kang on the left, all looking at me in a slightly nervous state. It was the first time since the company had been founded that key members were suddenly called in and their cell phones taken.
“Ahem.” Once I cleared my throat, I said to them, “The reason I asked you to come today…” Naturally, all four people’s eyes were on me.
“Starting today, I’m making a bet on the company’s best fortune. If we win here, Invictus Investment will be a company that will be ranked one of the nation’s top businesses, but if we fail here, we’ll probably have to close.”
Someone gulped. I continued carefully. “The biggest issue of our time, I think, is the hegemonic war between the United States and China. This is a huge, invisible war, fighting over the hegemony of the world. 2018 was three years ago. I think that’s where Donald Trump started the U.S.-China trade war when he started imposing tariffs on China. And of course, at the time, it looked like it was being properly sutured, expanding imports of U.S. products, removing state subsidies from several companies and strengthening the yuan. China accepted U.S. demands.”
They were listening to me in silence. I went on, “However, I think the end of the negotiations was not the end of the U.S. war with China, but the beginning of the attack. Let’s think of Japan in the 1980s. The Plaza Accord forced the yen to appreciate, but since then, Japan has been on a downward spiral, losing price competitiveness at high exchange rates. The merchandise that used to be selling well did not.
“In the meantime, Korea, which had relatively low exchange rates, took advantage of the opportunity to take the position of Japan and achieved tremendous growth. However, Korea fell into the same situation as Japan in the 2010s. China’s low-cost workforce and low-exchange rates have put all of Korea’s major industries at risk, whether it’s consumer electronics, shipbuilding, IT or chemicals.”
As I talked, all of them nodded. Up to this point, it was something that anyone in the investment industry could find in textbooks.
“Two years ago, in 2019, China ended up appreciating the yuan under pressure from the U.S. That temporarily led to China’s short-term bull run, with its purchasing power increasing and its stock prices rising. But so did Japan’s. Even after the Plaza Accord, Japan also had a boom for several years. Was that not so?”
Vice President Jang agreed here. “Yes, sir, it was.”
“But now China is going through the same situation. The forced appreciation of the yuan seems to have improved the purchasing power of the people, but exports are worsening. In the midst, the debt for the high growth rate that they’ve been using to support their growth is holding back. If China’s economy is shaken a little bit here, it’s going to be attacked by international speculators, including hedge funds in the U.S., with the approval of the U.S. government.”
At my words, Director Chung told me, “But Mr. President, the hypothesis is problematic. America’s imports and China’s exports… If it’s enough to shake the system… even if the U.S. were to hit China, they would suffer a lot too.”
I nodded. It usually came as a rebuttal to this hypothesis. “There’s a saying that you get a big victory instead of losing a small amount of money. I think the U.S. will make enough sacrifices to maintain its global hegemony, because it’s China. Let’s think of Japan, which went through the same thing. Japan has no nuclear weapons, and has little power but its navy to protect its island. Even the U.S. Pacific Fleet is stationed there. In fact, the U.S. allowed Japan to live together. Japan hasn’t attacked the U.S. since the Pearl Harbor air strike in World War II.”
I tapped the table twice and carried on my words. “But China is different, and it is no wonder. China is a country with great potential. They have a huge population and a great zeal for education… and they have nuclear weapons. Like the former Soviet Union, they can be a competitor, challenging American hegemony. They were actually going to do that. However, I don’t think the U.S. will tolerate that.”
Jang added to my remarks. “That’s what I think. If the U.S. is looking for a country that can make things at a really low price, there’s another alternative besides China. In the same Pacific region, there’s Indonesia with the world’s fourth-largest population, and there’s India, a little bit further, going beyond China to the top of the population. China is too big to grow together. I think the U.S. could break the momentum down here.”
I continued, clasping my hands here. “Looking back, there’s been a lot of strange signs in the Chinese economy lately. Jiwoo Entertainment, which we acquired, was one such case. A large Chinese company bought a Korean company at a high price and sold it in a hurry. The company had no problem at all. There’s been a little bit more of that strange thing going on lately, so… I think the collapse is not far off. I have a hunch that…”
Director Kang blurted out, his eyes narrowed, “The collapse?”
“Yes. The collapse. Chinese companies have blocked it with debt, but they may eventually go bankrupt, from small companies to big ones. Then there’s going to be a problem for the banks, too. I think that’s going to create a credit crunch, and that’s going to cause the yuan to fall steeply. China will go through the same foreign exchange crisis as our country did in the IMF, but the United States will turn its eyes. China will not breathe comfortably for years.”
Director Kang told me, “Mr. President, isn’t it dangerous for our country, too? Our country has become more dependent on China than the U.S. in recent years.”
I nodded. “Of course. Our country will also have a big crisis.”
“Then let’s move the money to safe assets…” When he said that, he stopped talking. He was the one who had turned our Invictus Investment’s cash into gold and silver…
I smiled. “That’s what Vice President Jang has been doing since the middle of last year; selling your company, reducing investment, transferring assets to safe assets. I was going to do this much and just watch, staying away from the casino table for a while. But as time went by, I was more and more convinced. I’m sure the crisis in China’s economy is just around the corner. So, I started thinking, not just about curling up, but about being aggressive.”
It was an honest remark. After the news I had seen half a year ago when I was traveling abroad, news about China continued to pour in from the “Economy” and “World” categories.
I put my hands flat and came to the point. “Listen carefully. In the next few months, our company will short sell the yuan and China. I am going to buy asset puts in China, regardless of whether it is in the U.S., Singapore, Hong Kong, or it is direct foreign exchange investment in the FX market. We will invest all of five billion dollars that we have in cash.”
As I spoke, the directors, as well as Vice President Jang, were stunned.
“All five billion dollars in cash?”
I answered calmly, “Yes.”
Vice President Jang also spoke up cautiously. “Boss, isn’t that too dangerous?”
Director Kang also said, “There is a saying that even God doesn’t know the exchange rate. Boss, you’re planning too risky an investment.”
Director Chung joined the group. “The yen has stabilized since the Plaza Accord. Will the yuan fall like that?”
I told him stories based on what I had seen in the future news. “The yen was able to hold out because the U.S. allowed Japan to live together with them. They let them live through the lost thirty years, and then they went through a painful deflation. But China is different. The U.S. thinks of China as a real threat. So it’s probably going to lead to a state bankruptcy. They will take away its G2 status and will not let it recover for years at the same time.”
As I spoke, Director Chung couldn’t object any more. I talked about more future knowledge here. “If we think about the International Monetary Fund (IMF), we can see that our country was also raised by the U.S. and died by the U.S. We gained weight rapidly when the foreign exchange came in, but was almost twisted to death when it escaped. But then they saved our country’s life. For the U.S., Korea is a good listener. If the sheep is mild, the owner simply cuts the wool and raises it again. But what if the sheep grows too big? And what if it wants to attack its master? The owner might kill the sheep that grew too big. I think that’s what’s going to happen.”
At what I said, Vice President Jang and the directors only rolled their eyes at each other and couldn’t speak any more. They couldn’t disobey me in the first place. Our company never received any investments from anyone. There was no other shareholder or such person to oppose my decision.
I spoke clearly here, “Sell China, that is the keynote of our company this year. You know that; please move on it!”
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