Analysing China, warts and all
With its economy embattled and investors fleeing in droves, getting good data on China has never been more important. There are some great analysts and research shops out there. Trouble is, too many China-facing reports suffer from a lack of imagination, groupthink brought on by a fear of irritating Beijing and an over-reliance on state data. That must change.
In late 2004, David Murphy was working as the Beijing bureau chief of the Far Eastern Economic Review. A once-venerable Asia current-affairs title, by now owned by Dow Jones, it had been stripped back to a skeletal writing staff. Murphy had one foot out the door: plans with friends to open a bar in the Chinese capital were at an advanced stage when he fielded a call from Gary Coull.
The Canada-born Coull was a striking character, an old-school thinker and do-er. When he passed away two years later, former Euromoney writer Tony Shale described him as a “splendid anachronism”: a poker player, horse owner and bon viveur. He had two careers: first as a journalist for FEER and the South China Morning Post; then as the founder and chairman of CLSA, a trailblazing Hong Kong brokerage famed for its pithy, punchy research and glitzy, star-studded conferences.
“Coull was a legend,” Murphy says. “He didn’t care about hierarchy. He wanted to make money, get stuff done and have fun. He wanted to know if I was someone who could set up a network that could track what was really going on in China’s economy.”
The call went nowhere at first, but a few months later Coull called again and asked if Murphy would like to head up a new China-themed offering called China Reality Research (CRR).