FINANCE: You saw The Big Short, right?

You saw The Big Short, right? Of course you did. And you came away with two thoughts: they ought to do something about this, and they won’t.

Welchil get ready to think those thoughts all over again when you see Jed Rothstein’s brisk new doc The China Hustle.

In case you’ve forgotten, short-selling is what happens when investors figure out that stocks are overvalued: they borrow shares in the company in question, sell them at the current rate, release a report showing that the company is overvalued, watch as the company’s value plummets, and pay for the shares they’d borrowed at the newly tanked cost, pocketing almost all the money they made in the initial sale as profit.

In 2008, the overvalued stocks were subprime mortgages and most of the investors were Americans. Today, according to the investors and experts in Rothstein’s film, the investors are Chinese firms trading on US stock markets. (Those experts are led by investor-activist Dan David and include a number of other short-sellers as well as, amusingly, former general, presidential candidate and investor Wesley Clark throwing a temper tantrum.) They have managed to do that through “reverse mergers,” processes in which defunct but still technically registered US companies like, say, Nevada silver mining companies “merge” with Chinese companies, which take over their stock market registrations.

The China Hustle Director Jed Rothstein

These companies look legit – they all appear to be audited by one of the big four accounting firms – but as soon as you dig, you figure out they are anything but. For one, they are all audited not by, say, PricewaterhouseCoopers’ head U.S. office but by the company’s China division, which, the film suggests, may have paid off to overvalue their assets. The China Hustle goes out of its way to explain that things just plain work different in China. In the absence of a strong legal system, it’s basically the Wild West.

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