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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

China's bubble - or long-term boom?

Bill Bonner's take on China's stake in US finance house Blackstone is bearish. He cites the OECD, saying low interest rates, thanks to China and Japan, have encouraged buy-outs like this.

Bonner has a jaundiced view of the fees and wheeler-dealing of market-makers, and believes that a flood of Chinese investors' money is raising share prices generally.

Today's Australasian Investment Review, quoted in ACN Newswire, dissents from the bubble view, giving these reasons:

• Firstly, much of the rebound in Chinese shares since 2005 reflects a recovery from a four-year bear market, during which individual Chinese investors lost confidence in shares and allocated most of their assets to bank deposits.

• Secondly, profit growth for listed Chinese companies over the last year has been a very strong 78%.

• Thirdly, while the price earnings ratio for Chinese A shares of around 40 times is high by our standards it is only just above its 10 year average of 36 times and is well below its previous high of 60 times.The PE on Chinese shares is also way below the peak levels reached during previous share market bubbles, eg, the Japanese Nikkei index peaked on a PE of 70 times in 1989 and the tech heavy Nasdaq reached a PE of 160 in 2000.

• Finally, Chinese investors still have a very low proportion of their financial wealth invested in shares, around 25% compared to over 50% in Australia and 40% in the rest of Asia. Bank deposits on 3% or so interest account for 65% of financial wealth.So the long term potential for a higher allocation to shares is high.

The author of this piece admits things need to cool down and the recent raising of interest rates should help. But, he says, China's financial and economic fundamentals are sound.

The arguments are cogent and reassure us about the longer term; but I imagine it's possible that if naive investors in China suffer a setback, they may over-react and become bearish for some time to come. If so, and bearing in mind Chinese light industry's vulnerability to exchange rates, a bold investor might buy medium/large-cap Chinese stocks. Not immediately, perhaps - I seem to recall that historically, a major stock slide takes around 30 months to hit bottom.

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