There is a saying on Wall Street, “first in, first out,” which aptly describes the experience of the world’s second-largest economy this year. The coronavirus was spawned in Wuhan, China late last year, but thanks to the country’s quick response, China has sprung back stronger than ever.
By almost any economic measure, China has not only managed to avoid a recession this year, but will actually see its GDP grow by 1.6% in 2020. To put that growth in perspective, the world’s economy is expected to decline by 4.4% this year.
The startling Chinese recovery in the face of ongoing pandemic problems throughout the rest of the world, can be credited with the government’s tough lockdown procedures, population tracking abilities, as well as a rapid testing programs among billions of citizens. At the same time, governmental fiscal and monetary policy went into action immediately. Major infrastructure projects were launched. In the consumer sector, cash in exchange for more spending programs encouraged consumers to spend more in a variety of areas from tourism to dining out.
In September, the manufacturing sector hit a six-month high. Small businesses, which are struggling to stay alive in most other countries, have expanded as well. The service sector is growing in tandem with other areas of the economy, according to the Caixin Insight survey, a media group that follows and forecasts the Chinese economy.
Most Americans had expected that, during the last four years, our trade balance with China would improve, and it did, thanks to tariffs and other restrictions. The problem is, the U.S. simply imported more from other countries instead (like Vietnam), and as a result, our overall trade deficit remained the same. China’s trade imbalance with the U.S. is once again widening. The U.S. trade deficit with China surged in July to $63.6 billion. That is the highest level in 12 years, as imports jumped by a record amount. Politicians won’t admit it, and you may not want to hear it, but we need what they make, and they make it better, faster, and are far more reliable than most.
By the end of this year, China will account for 17.5% of global GDP, a rise of 1.1%, which values the entire economy at about $14.6 trillion. The difference in nominal GDP is expected to lessen between China and the U.S. over the next three years, by how much may depend on our future response to the pandemic. This performance has not been lost on investors.
China’s stock market has climbed to a record high of $10 trillion. That level blew past the country’s previous market peak, which occurred during the stock market bubble of five years ago in China.
During that time, the stock market hit $10.05 trillion in June of 2015, just before governmental authorities decided to crack down on leveraged trading. The Chinese market subsequently halved in value.
This time around, however, stock investors are simply looking for growth, and worldwide that has been hard to come by. While equities are up about 17% (versus 9% for the S&P 500 Index), the buying has taken on a more measured approach. Valuations, while rich, are not reflecting unrealistic values like they did in 2015. Valuations for the CSI 300 trades at less than 19 times trailing, 12-month earnings, compared to 40 times the Index’s 2015 peak. Institutional investors now own more than 70% of the free float of all Chinese stocks, while foreign investors hold about 5%, according to China Renaissance, a financial investment bank.
Recently, the country’s currency has also been strengthening and foreign direct investment continues to grow. U.S. investment, for example, has risen by 6% in the first half of the year, according to China’s Ministry of Commerce, despite all the anti-China rhetoric coming out of Washington.
There are risks investing in China, which is still considered an emerging market economy, despite its size. The authoritarian political system and centralized economy present downside risks in investing, as 2015 aptly illustrated. Still, investors might want to eye some equity exposure to this country, especially if the markets were to experience a pullback in the weeks ahead.