Where Have China’s State Monopolies Gone?

Paul Hubbard

If China’s economy is an example of ‘state-capitalism’, then its large, state-owned enterprises (SOEs) could be expected to monopolise key sectors. But previous estimates of industrial concentration using the Herfindahl-Hirschman Index (HHI) have suggested that the level of industrial concentration – and therefore the potential for the abuse of monopoly power – is very low. These studies have significantly underestimated HHI, since they do not consolidate subsidiary enterprises in Chinese survey data into larger business groups, or according to ultimate ownership. After making these adjustments, a measure of potential HHI shows that large state monopolies remain in oil and gas, electricity, tobacco and, potentially, automobiles. In particular, SOEs supervised by the central government are heavily invested in potentially concentrated industries. But aggregate profits of the state sector are driven more by the portfolio distribution of assets between resources, manufacturing and utilities, rather than industrial concentration within sectors.