China markets continued its strong showing after Chinese New Year holidays. The GDP growth rate was respectable at 6.8% in the fourth quarter and the expected government stimulus that should ensure a growth rate of 8% in 2009. Moreover, the Shanghai Composite Index was up an impressive 9.3% in January. That is impressive in comparison to the nearly identical 8.8% change in the Dow, though for the Dow it was in the other direction.
China's official purchasing managers' index (PMI) for January rose to 45.3 from 41.2 in December and a record low of 38.8 plumbed in November, the China Federation of Logistics and Purchasing (CFLP) said on Wednesday. A reading over 50 indicates an expansion of activity in the manufacturing sector while one below 50 suggests contraction. New orders, including those for exports, and production rose strongly. The only two sub-indexes to decrease were stockpiles of finished products and employment.The January PMI indicates that China's economy is gradually bottoming out. The government's 4 trillion yuan ($915 billion) stimulus plan had started to have a positive impact on business, which was booking more orders for capital goods. Moreover, banks extended about 1.2 trillion yuan in new loans in January, a monthly record, in response to government calls to lend more to halt the economy's decline.
The stimulus plan is just as big as Obama's stimulus plan. One big difference, the China plan has a huge slant towards infrastructure. While Obama's plan is dissected into hundreds of pieces to satisfy various interest groups and to create a strong safety net for the poor. It is easier to marshal resources and get all provinces to work in tandem with government policies in China - and that is a huge advantage.
previous posting on China in mid-January 2009:
- The “smart money” is buying, not selling. Many foreign banks (including Li Ka Shing) have been selling down their Chinese banking shares in droves - the activity has been substantive over the last few weeks. We have to recognise that the foreign banks are selling because they are in trouble, not because the Chinese banks are in trouble. Secondly, the Chinese banks are the only kind of assets that can still get a decent price nowadays. Thirdly, the Chinese banks are the only kind of assets that there are plenty of willing money to buy them even now. Funds investing in emerging-market stocks raised their Chinese holdings to the highest level since 1995.
- Chinese shares are very reasonably valued. If legendary investors like Warren Buffett really like US stocks trading at 12 times earnings, they should be rabid over Chinese stocks. Based on the MSCI China Index, the average Chinese stock trades for less than eight times earnings, and they do not have to contend with the massive de-leveraging.
- Oil is much cheaper. One of China’s biggest challenges was to keep a lid on inflation, while still maintaining its breakneck pace of economic growth. That was no easy task with oil at $150 as the cost of shipping, food and fuel were increasing rapidly. Keep in mind, China imports a net 3.3 million barrels of oil a day. Now that oil prices are down considerably, the recently announced stimulus would see a more effective trickle through effect and multiplier effect, and not being "wasted" on oil prices. The risk of inflation in injecting the huge stimulus is muted as well.
- The economy is NOT in a recession. Sure, it’s slowing down, but China is still on track for a solid 5%-6% expansion based on analysts’ estimates. And 8% if you believe the government statistics. Regardless of who ends up being right, compared to the contraction in most other economies, such a rate is downright explosive.
- The last time Chinese stocks were this cheap was during the Asian financial crisis. Back then, most Asian countries were running huge deficits. But this time the roles are reversed. As of December, China boasts $1.95 trillion in foreign reserves. And counting. If necessary, the government can deploy these surpluses to keep economic growth humming along.
- The consumer is just getting started. The country’s burgeoning middle class, now the size of the entire United States, is just getting started. The McKinsey Quarterly estimates that it will take two decades before these nouveau riche reach their full spending potential. As we know from our own experience and prosperity - 70% of GDP in the United States is attributed to consumer spending - the consumer is an engine of economic growth. In other words, the global recessionary headwinds are no match for the Chinese consumer. Like it or not, the global economy has grown by 70% in trade terms since 2000 till mid 2008. Much of that growth was due to globalisation and a huge new middle class of consumers being created in China, India and Latam - that middle class, while affected by the current crisis, will still be a force to be reckon with.
- Locals are optimistic. We know consumer confidence plays a big role in the success of our own economy. It flat out stinks right now in the United States, And the economic conditions reflect it. But in China, it’s an entirely different situation. A recent survey from the Pew Research Center shows that most Chinese (86%) feel positive about where their country is headed. And that’s up from 25% just six years ago.
- The “mother of all stimulus plans.” While the Obama stimulus has yet to take hold in the United States, rest assured it will. Same goes for the $584 billion the Chinese government is pumping into its economy. China’s “got the mother of all stimulus plans” when you factor in the government spending, savings rates and the rapid decline in commodities prices.
p/s photos: KC Concepcion