Mark Dampier: China domestic focus has not reduced the potential

The Analyst

I recently spent five days in China with the renowned fund manager Anthony Bolton. We went to three major cities, Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai, visiting 18 companies most of which he owns in his Fidelity China Special Situations Trust. It was a most insightful trip, which highlighted both the opportunities and the risks of investing in China.

Mr Bolton’s approach is precisely the same as it was at launch just over two years ago. He wants to own unloved, undervalued companies whose true potential is not widely recognised by the market. This has been his strategy throughout his career, most of which has been highly successful. His particular focus is on companies benefiting from domestic consumption in China, a part of the economy the government is keen to stimulate.

China’s story for the past 30 years has been its growing exports, but the authorities now recognise a need to rebalance; especially now wages are rising making low-cost manufacturing less competitive. Encouraging the frugal Chinese to spend rather than save will take time, although improvements to healthcare and social security are gradually taking effect.

Clearly this is an exciting trend for investors. Yet it is also a long-term one, and China is experiencing growing pains. Last year was a bad one for Hong Kong and China shares, with the market sharply down. It has been a strong tide for Anthony Bolton to swim against, especially with gearing in the fund of around 25 per cent, which exaggerates market movements, both up and down. To compound matters, small and medium sized companies, which make up much of the portfolio, were particularly badly hit.

Turning to some of the companies we visited, Anthony Bolton’s largest position is Ping An, the second largest insurance company in China. The shares underperformed last year as its life insurance division was hurt by weak equity markets. It employs 12,000 people in Shanghai and has the largest telemarketing operation in the world, with one million calls a day. It insures 32 million vehicles, yet there are still only just over 100 million cars in China against a population of 1.34bn, so the potential for the company is enormous.

I met many entrepreneurs on the trip, such as Zhang Xin, the CEO of the commercial  property company SOHO China, and one example of the many women in Chinese business with very senior roles. Property development is, of course, an area the Western press suggests is dead in the water. Yet all her buildings are fully occupied and rents rose by 50 per cent last year. Indeed, she said the market for offices was the best she had ever known. Ms Zhang did admit that retail property such as shopping malls is a much tougher area as consumer spending, while growing strongly, has not been enough to utilise the supply of retail space. SOHO trades at a 45 per cent discount to its net asset value, suggesting that sentiment could be a major factor in determining share prices presently.

Another company we visited was National Natural Beauty, whose objective is to become the leading national beauty chain in China. It has a five-year plan of shop roll-outs, and the one I visited in Shanghai would not have been out of place in Bond Street – and nor would the prices!

The company has no borrowings, is cash rich and yields 6 per cent with a policy of dividend growth. Profits surged by 275 per cent last year to HK$115m (£9.2m), and the company looks perfectly positioned to harness the rise of the Chinese middle class.

Interestingly, many companies like this are under-researched, mainly because you have to go into China to find them. International funds tend to buy only the big, well-known companies, so they potentially miss the most exciting opportunities. Anthony Bolton is, however, determined to uncover the best of them.

While the story on the ground looks exciting, the economic background ismore threatening. Money supply is contracting alongside industrial output. The authorities reacted last week by cutting bank reserve requirements, freeing up more capital to lend, but making the transition from an export-based economy to a domestic one is not going to be easy. Let’s hope the Chinese manage it. Otherwise attention could rapidly shift from the eurozone to Asia, with consequences for all markets.

Mark Dampier is head of research at Hargreaves Lansdown, the asset manager, financial adviser and stockbroker. He spent five days in China as a guest of Fidelity. For more details about the funds included in this column, visit www.hl.co.uk

Independent Partners; Do you need financial advice on your investments, pension or insurance? Book a free consultation with an independent Financial Adviser at VouchedFor.co.uk

Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

    £40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

    Neil Pavier: Management Accountant

    £45,000 - £55,000: Neil Pavier: Are you looking for your next opportunity for ...

    Sheridan Maine: Commercial Accountant

    £45,000 - £55,000: Sheridan Maine: Are you a newly qualified ACA/ACCA/ACMA qua...

    Laura Norton: Project Accountant

    £50,000 - £60,000: Laura Norton: Are you looking for an opportunity within a w...

    Day In a Page

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?