China: The Trade of the Century?
So it goes, Britain was the country of the 19th century, the United States was the country of the 20th century, and China will be the country of the 21st century. Is investment in China hype or reality? Here are some points in China’s favor:
- Large Labor Force: With a population exceeding 1.3 billion people, China has plenty of labor available to expand GDP (Gross Domestic Product).
- No Nonsense Government: An authoritarian government has its advantages. While pornography (see article) and unrest may be problems, infrastructure projects are not.
- Education: Chinese culture values education. As a result, China is slowly shifting away from its roots as the globe’s manufacturing and piracy capital. Intellectual property is appreciated more now that China is becoming a leader in emerging technology areas, such as solar power.
- Trade Surplus & Currency Reserves: Must be nice to have trade surpluses and massive currency reserves (~$2.3 trillion). This is what happens when you are in a position to export more than you import.
- Manageable Debt: China’s Debt/GDP ratio is less than 25%. You can compare that to the U.S. at around 100% and Japan at over 200%. Disciplined fiscal management provides the Chinese government with more options in dealing with the global slowdown (e.g., stimulus).
- Long Runway of Growth (Read More): China’s long runway of growth has allowed it, and should continue to allow it, to grow at above average growth rates – in the 3rd quarter of 2009 the Chinese economy grew at a very healthy +8.9% rate.
With all these positives, it’s no wonder China is the darling of the world. Given the constructive outlook, how can investors take advantage of the Far East opportunity in China? Our good friend at Investing Caffeine (figuratively speaking), Burton Malkiel (Princeton Professor of Economics and Chief Investment Officer at AlphaShares), is bullish about China and is sharing his preferred participation method…an all-cap China exchange traded fund (ticker: YAO) – Read more about Malkiel and Active vs. Passive Investing (12/8/09 Post).
Just how bullish is Professor Malkiel?
“I think China will continue to have the highest growth rate of any major country in the world, and within 20 years, China will be the world’s leading economic power.”
And he puts his money where his mouth is. Last year the professor shared his Chinese exposure in his personal portfolio:
“My portfolio is probably 20 percent Chinese, and that includes not only indices but also individual companies.”
Risks: The Price to Play
Professor Malkiel is not blindly diving into China – he researched the markets for years before taking the plunge. In an article from last year (From Wall Street to the Great Wall), he highlighted some of the inherent risks:
1) Foreign Neighbors: China continues to have tense, although cordial, relations with some of its neighbors like Taiwan and Japan. Their dealings are stable now, but the future is uncertain.
2) Social Unrest: An uneven distribution of income can lead to serious social unrest, especially in the rural parts of the country. If the government can’t keep the economy humming along, those left behind may fight back.
3) Environmental Degradation: China is building nuclear, wind, and solar projects at a frenetic pace, but China is also the globe’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases (relies on dirty coal for 70% of its energy), according to CNN. If China becomes an irresponsible power hog, there could be damaging effects to the economy.
4) Corruption: This continues to be a problem, but Malkiel points out the case of Zheng Xiaoyu, a former director of China’s FDA (Food and Drug Administration) equivalent. In 2007, he was executed after being found guilty of taking bribes.
5) Banking System: Malkiel notes that China continues to have a fragile banking system with a lot of bad loans. Due to political reasons, certain government owned entities may receive risky loans in the name of creating jobs – even if it means keeping unhealthy zombie banks alive.
Beyond investing in AlphaShare ETFs (YAO), Malkiel advocates considering the other options, such as the “A”, “H”, and “N” shares. Unfortunately, the more inefficient “A” shares, which trade in Shanghai and Shenzen, are largely unavailable to investors outside of China. However, the “H” shares and “N” shares are available to international investors. “H” shares are listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange and the listed companies follow globally accepted accounting principles. The “N” shares come from companies registering with the SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) and trade either on the NYSE (New York Stock Exchange) or NASDAQ exchanges.
Lastly, Malkiel knows he is not the only investor to pick-up on the China growth story. Multinationals are investing heavily in China, and these domestically based companies can serve as indirect investment vehicles to benefit from the attractive fundamentals as well.
Professor Malkiel calls China the “growth story of the world.” Simple math shows us that this Asian juggernaut (the third largest country in the world by GDP) will soon pass Japan in the number two position and the U.S. is likely only a few decades ahead after that. Having explored and studied China firsthand, I concur with many of Malkiels conclusions, which opens the possibility that China could reasonably be the top country (and top trade) of the 21st century?
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds, like FXI, at the time of publishing. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.