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

Life and Style
“What is it like being a girl?” was the question on the lips of one inquisitive Reddit user this week
News
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Life and Style
beauty
PROMOTED VIDEO
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
transfers
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

Sport
German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
film
News
peopleMario Balotelli poses with 'shotgun' in controversial Instagram pic
News
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Sport
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Sport
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight
tv
Sport
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
News
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
people
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
tech
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
tech
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
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

    BC2

    £50000 - £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

    Programme Support, Coms, Bristol, £300-350p/d

    £300 - £350 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...

    (Junior) IT Systems Administrator / Infrastructure Analyst

    £28000 - £32000 per annum + pension, 25 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A highly ...

    Finance Officer

    Negotiable: Randstad Education Birmingham: Randstad Education are seeking a Fi...

    Day In a Page

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice