Mark Dampier: China set for new wave of growth
Saturday 25 July 2009
It was, perhaps, only after Great Britain handed Hong Kong back to the Chinese in 1997 that we started to take China more seriously. Hong Kong had been seen as a safe haven proxy for China but, since the handover, the Communist state has gone on from strength to strength and has certainly been courting the other world economies.
China's entry into the World Trade Organisation was a major turning point and the region as a whole is becoming far more powerful. It really is impossible to talk about the world economy without mentioning its most populous country. It should be noted, however, that despite all the hype, it still only contributes around 7 per cent of world GDP – although that figure continues to move up fast.
In the past, the only way to play China was to buy a general Asian fund, but over the last few years specialist China funds have been launched. One of the most successful has been the Jupiter China Fund managed by Philip Ehrmann.
It was launched three years ago and has had something of a rollercoaster ride, but that's investing in China for you. In 2008 it fell around 45 per cent but so far this year it is up 46 per cent.
Back in the tough times of 2008, Ehrmann thought that the Chinese market was a great bargain and last autumn put his own money into the fund. I caught up with him a few days ago and asked him what his views were now.
He says that one of the reasons why the Chinese market had such a big tumble was simply that it had become over-owned, meaning that when the global economy hit the skids, many people were just forced sellers.
However, he believes that while China is no longer as dirt cheap as it was earlier in the year, it still represents good value.
He thinks the big surprise will be earnings upgrades and feels that we are at the beginning of a three- to four-year cycle where earnings will rise 20-25 per cent, year on year. Exports may remain flat next year; it is domestic consumption where the bulk of the growth will be seen.
The Chinese instituted their own fiscal stimulus plan, which dwarfed even those of the UK and US. This was over 15 per cent of GDP and we can see the effects coming through now. The big fall in exports has been at least partially offset by a big infrastructure spending move. For that reason, Ehrmann has been invested in utility companies; the fund's third largest holding is Xin Ao Gas, which distributes gas to 60 cities in China.
Mr Ehrmann does not generally buy into the largest stocks, but prefers to do his stock hunting in medium-sized and smaller firms. You could argue that this is a far more volatile strategy, which is true, however, like many small companies these are under-researched. This does mean that sometimes the fund can lag behind the main indices if the Chinese market moves up very strongly, as it tends to be the large stocks that international investors will buy first.
For those investors who want a specialised China fund, I believe this is one of the best. However, it is vital to remember that China can't as yet be divorced from what is happening in the world economy.
The idea that it can decouple from America is an absurd one given the interdependence of every major nation in the modern world.
Indeed, it is this imbalance, with the Chinese owning a huge amount of the US treasury market, which is now one of the world's potential problems. So the best way to buy the Jupiter China Fund may be in instalments to average out your purchase price.
Mark Dampier is the head of research at Hargreaves Lansdown, the asset manager, financial adviser and stockbroker. For more information about the funds included in this column, visit www.h-l.co.uk/independent
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