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Lost in translation: Has a comment on pigs cost UBS a bond deal?

A UBS economist made an innocuous comment about swine flu in China, and five days later a belief among Chinese speakers that he used a racist term has led to him being suspended, UBS apologizing and it disappearing from a key Chinese bond mandate. Now what?


An extraordinary series of events during the past five days has underlined a universal truism: a lot can be lost in translation. And another, too: annoying China has consequences.

The story starts with a podcast by Paul Donovan, chief economist at UBS global wealth management, on Wednesday. He was speaking about the impact of African swine fever in China, and the knock-on effects on consumer prices.

This is what he said: “Chinese consumer prices rose. This was mainly due to sick pigs.


Paul Donovan,

“Does this matter? It matters if you are a Chinese pig. It matters if you like eating pork in China. It does not really matter to the rest of the world.”

If that doesn’t sound much, consider that, five days later, Donovan has been placed on leave of absence, UBS has unreservedly apologized, and it is understood it has been thrown off a joint bookrunner role on a dollar bond deal for a powerful Chinese state-owned corporate, China Railway.

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