Following on the heels of renewed concern over Europe's debt situation, China released its monthly economic data. Fixed asset investment, industrial production and retail sales all rose in April, yet growth was not as strong as analysts anticipated. "Weak" is the word to describe China's April figures, says CLSA's Andy Rothman in his Sinology Report.
While data were lower than expected, they weren't disastrous, says Andy. According to CEBM Group, slower growth was the government's intention. China wants the ability to manage a "stable decline" to "promote medium-to-long-term structural reforms" as well as avoid a hard landing, says CEBM.
Because they weren't devastating results for the country, more fine-tuning, rather than a major stimulus plan, is likely to come from this emerging market if growth continues to stall. "The government should move forward to introduce accommodative policies stabilizing economic growth," says CEBM.
Easing policy for China is only a matter of willingness. Unlike the developed countries of the West that have overworked their printing presses and are now strapped with a tremendous burden of debt, China is in good shape. According to BCA Research, the country's overall gross debt is only 42 percent of GDP, significantly lower than all of the G-7 countries which have the most debt of the countries listed below. Of the E-7 countries, only Indonesia and Russia have less government debt compared to GDP.
To offset the country's liabilities, BCA says China also has "a massive net asset position," including owning interests in publicly listed firms, large companies and the country's land mass. According to BCA, if you look at only state-owned enterprises, the net assets are nearly "as large as the total public (local and central combined) debt." By these stats alone, it appears the emerging country does not have a solvency issue.
However, rather than serious stimulus, CLSA anticipates that China will make a move to ensure its two primary goals are met, which include new loan growth as well as M2-money supply growth of about 14 percent. Andy says, to accomplish these goals, the government will likely boost its spending on infrastructure and low-income housing, ease restrictions on new home purchases by first-time buyers, and offer more credit to the private sector.
We believe government policy is a precursor to change, and when China feels the need to fire up its fiscal or monetary firepower, we believe the flow of money will send Chinese stocks--along with commodities--higher.
CEBM notes an interesting correlation between the A-Share market and economic growth, which points to a possible improvement. The research firm compares today's economy with what we saw in late 2008. While the data is not as ominous and the government has grown comfortable with slower growth today, there is still a resemblance to the situation in 2008, where the market rebound led improved economic growth by four months. CEBM believes it may be seeing the same signs of bottoming of the market today, and if the 2008 trend holds, economic growth should now be in the bottoming process.
Fine-Tuning Your Portfolio to Potentially Benefit
As economic data is released over the next few months, China will be keeping a close eye to determine when to open the spigots. Before this happens, we believe investors should position their portfolios to potentially benefit. Here are two ways:
1. Invest in emerging markets companies and commodity equities. Emerging markets continue to offer the most potential for growth, and as you see below, over the past five years, as the Shanghai Composite Index rose, the S&P Global Natural Resources Index soon followed.
2. Get "paid to wait" with dividends. This week, investors fled any asset that was perceived as risky, including stocks of any country and commodities, including gold, in favor of "safe" government Treasuries. The 10-year note on U.S. Treasuries fell to 1.85 percent, which is lower than the dividend yield on numerous stocks. Currently, the annualized dividend rates on the S&P Global Natural Resources, MSCI Emerging Markets and the S&P 500 indices are nearly 2.9 percent, 2.8 percent, and 2.1 percent, respectively, all higher than a 10-year investment. Along with steady income provided by dividends, these stocks offer potential appreciation on your capital.
This week, I am presenting at the Hard Assets Conference in New York, sharing more investing insights about China, commodities and how to apply Super S-Curves in a portfolio. I'll be in good company, as Pam Aden, Adrian Day, Ian McAvity, Jay Taylor and Gregory Weldon will be presenting as well. I hope to share some of their thoughts as well as my takeaways in the coming days.