[Editor's Note: This is the tenth installment of our "Outlook 2009" series, which looks at the global investing outlook for the New Year.]
By Don Miller
The Chinese word for crisisis weiji.
But get this – when translated literally, wei means danger and ji means opportunity. So to the Chinese, a crisis – or danger – represents an opportunity.
Of course, you don't have to actually speak Chinese to understand what this mindset means for investors.
What you're seeing in China today is nothing less than the classic definition of a crisis presenting the profit opportunity of a lifetime.
While investors in U.S. markets are mostly concerned about saving their necks, China has been stacking the deck in favor of those who have the guts to pull the trigger on the most undervalued market in memory.
Here's why you should consider taking an early position in China in 2009.
The Mother of All Stimulus Plans
While it's not old news, the current crisis in U.S. financial markets is all too familiar. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index is down almost 40% from its 52-week high and there seems to be no end in sight.
Worse, the malaise encompassing the United States has clearly spread to the rest of the world, including China.
So it appears that what investors once considered to be the greatest investment opportunity of our lifetime has imploded – just another financial black hole where portfolios go to die.
Truth be told, however, there is ample evidence that China's economy and markets will weather the storm and ultimately thrive in the year ahead.
The Chinese economy has been the fastest growing in the world for the last three decades, averaging double-digit growth for the last seven years. And while the credit crisis has slammed on the brakes in terms of growth in the West, China is still on track for a solid 8% growth in 2009.
But the Red Dragon isn't about to take any chances. With $2 trillion in foreign exchange reserves available, China can increase the growth rate of its economy – even as it works to boost economic recovery efforts elsewhere in the world.
And that's just what it's about to do.
The People's Republic of China has already announced a $586 billion (4 trillion yuan) spending package. To put that in perspective, this plan amounts to a staggering 20% of China's gross domestic product (GDP). Compare that to the $1 trillion in U.S. bailouts, which equate to about 8% of GDP.
And China's reserves won't be doled out in dribs and drabs. The plan calls for spending the whole amount in just a few years.
To further grease the recovery skids, China has reduced interest rates five times in the last three months, and loosened lending rules. Now China's banks are perfectly positioned to get the ball rolling, flush with cash from a world-leading savings rate of 35%. And because they are state-owned, the cash will flow quickly from the banks to government projects.
The convergence of the recent market swoon and the stimulus plan means you now have the opportunity to buy great companies at the dawn of the Chinese century.
But specifically, where should you look to park investment capital in the Chinese market?
Well, there are solid plays across all spectrums of China's economy, but the best are in infrastructure, consumer goods and energy.
Infrastructure Paves the Way to Profit
The first place to look is infrastructure development, which has been the main engine of China's explosive growth over the past two decades.
While most believe China's economy is export driven, statistics show public works spending accounts for 4%-6 % of the country's GDP growth. From 2007-2010, China will spend a whopping $725 billion on infrastructure improvements in a race to accommodate its rapidly migrating populace.
By 2030, 1 billion of its people will live in cities, up from 600 million today. About 170 mass-transit systems will be needed. Another 40 billion square meters of floor space will be built in 5 million buildings – 50,000 of which could be skyscrapers.
And all of these developed regions will be connected by new roads. Shorter transport times drive down costs, and smooth the transition to city living for China's exploding middle class.
Plans for China's road system call for 12 major routes across the country from north to south and east to west connecting millions to new routes of commerce, according to The Wall Street Journal. The system will stretch 53,000 miles by 2020, surpassing the 47,000 miles of roadways in the United States.
It will take massive amounts of steel, cement, and bulk transportation to build those roads.
Money Morning Contributing Editor Martin Hutchinson believes one big winner from the infrastructure boom will be Vale (ADR: RIO) the world's largest producer of iron ore. As the world's leading producer and consumer of steel, China is also the world's leading importer of iron ore, which – along with coking coal – is a key component in steel production.
And while prices and demand for Chinese steel fell sharply in the second half of 2008, they are already beginning to pick back up.
In fact, steel production in the Chinese city of Tangshan, in the Hebei province, has risen to more than 70% of capacity as companies resumed output after prices stabilized, the Tangshan Evening News reported Dec. 26. About 39 out of 57 iron and steel factories in Hebei, China's biggest steel-producing province, are operating now, compared with 25 in August.
Tangshan is an industrial-level city in that steel-rich region.
"The iron-ore stocks have been overly poorly treated in the past couple of months with all the fear over China," Michael Heffernan, a client adviser with Austock Securities Ltd., told Bloomberg News.
"Negativity over the Chinese situation is overdone," Heffernan added. "In the past couple of months the Chinese may have been posturing to get the best possible deals they could when negotiations over contract prices reopen."
That's good news for Vale, which looks attractive with a Price/Earnings (P/E) ratio of only 8.6.
A big source of China's iron-and-steel demand has to do with the country's commitment to railroads. A full $100 billion of the stimulus package will be spent on rail services.
That makes Guangshen Railway Co. Ltd. (ADR: GSH) a good play.
Guangshen Railways is the biggest rail operator in China with cargo and passenger operations between Guangzhou and Shenzhen, as well as Hong Kong.
There is an acute shortage of rail capacity to carry raw materials from China's western provinces to manufacturing centers on the Red Dragon's East Coast. Right now, cargo capacity is only 35% of demand, according to the Chinese Railway Ministry.
That helped revenue at this $94 billion company to jump 17% in the first three quarters of 2008, despite a crippling snowstorm in January. Guangshen also yields about 3%, rewarding investors who are willing to hold the shares as they wait for the stimulus to kick in.
China's Urban Migration and Growing Consumer Class
The opening of new highways is providing greater mobility to China's population, accelerating the massive move from the hinterlands to the cities. Incredibly, China will have 221 cities with more than one million inhabitants by 2025 – compared with 35 in Europe and nine in the United States today.
Quite simply, that urban migration is responsible for creating the largest consumer class the world has ever seen – a middle class greater than the entire population of the United States.
Retail sales in China are estimated to have risen about 21% in 2008, according to the Ministry of Commerce. And now that weakness in the global economy has dented exports, the government is making an even greater effort to boost domestic consumption.
China Life is experiencing continued growth for reasons unique to government regulations. Without a social security system, Chinese consumers must fund their own retirement – one reason the Chinese save an amazing 35 cents of every dollar they earn.
Also, China Life's investment portfolio hasn't been hit by the market meltdown, because government regulations prevented the company from owning subprime-related mortgages and securities. With 43% market share, Moody's Corp. (MCO) expects premiums to grow between 30% and 40% in 2008. And right now, only 3% of China's consumers own life insurance, leaving plenty more room for growth.
Another company worth looking at is China Mobile Ltd. (ADR: CHL).
With 443 million subscribers, China Mobile is the dominant provider in the world's largest mobile telecom market. And in terms of growth, an additional 3 million to 4 million consumers become mobile phone subscribers in China each month, according to the Chinese Ministry of Information.
The company's earnings per share (EPS) increased 31% in the first three quarters of 2008 and China Mobile stock yields a healthy 3.2%.
Now, the mobile services giant is in talks with Apple Inc. (AAPL) to introduce the iPhone to the burgeoning Chinese market. And with the global slump hurting smaller players, it's on the hunt for acquisitions with attractive valuations in emerging markets.
Soaring Energy Demand = Growing Profit
Despite a slight slowdown in the economy, China's energy appetite continues to grow at a ravenous pace. And even though the country is building one coal-fired power plant a week, China's unable to keep up with exploding demand.
China's electricity consumption rose 5.2% in 2008 and investment follow. A total of $84 billion (576 billion yuan) was invested in the sector in 2008 – a 1.52% over to 2007. Power grid spending rose 17.69% to $42 billion (288.5 billion yuan).
As with other forms of infrastructure, China plans to up its investment in electricity over the next several years. China has already announced $29 billion in new energy projects, including a new natural gas pipeline, construction of 10 new nuclear power plants, and a new coal mine, set to produce 14 million tons of coal a year.
Here are two solid profit plays on the new infusion of cash:
China burns more "black rock" than the United States, Japan and Europe combined, and this company is one of China's biggest coal suppliers. It produces lots of high-grade, low-sulfur coal, which burns cleaner and fetches a premium price. The company also boasts profit margins of 22% in an industry where the margins average about half that amount. For the first three quarters of the year, the company posted profits that were up 364% from a year ago. This kind of growth, in a stock that's trading at three times earnings, is a big time potential bargain – especially given its dividend yield of 4.3%.
Both Fitz-Gerald and Hutchinson recommend like Huaneng Power International Inc. (HNP), as well.
Huaneng is the largest utility in China, and is a virtual lock to benefit from growth in any form. It owns 16 operating power plants, and has controlling interests in 13 others. As a state-owned enterprise, it has the contract to produce the power for the entire eastern region of China, including Shanghai and Beijing. Although it's been generating losses lately due to high coal prices, the power company is likely to increase output and profits with any economic expansion.
If you're leery of investing in individual stocks you might want to look at the Templeton Dragon Fund Inc. (TDF). Over 80% of the closed-end's assets are directly invested in China. And with roughly 50 positions, it provides ample diversification.
[Editor's Note: As the whipsaw trading patterns energy investors have endured this year have shown, the ongoing financial crisis has changed the investment game forever. Uncertainty is now the norm and that new reality alone has created a whole set of new rules that will help determine who profits and who loses. Investors who ignore this "New Reality" will struggle, and will find their financial forays to be frustrating and unrewarding. But investors who embrace this change will not only survive – they will thrive.
Money Morning Investment Director Keith Fitz-Gerald has already isolated these new rules and has unlocked the key to what he refers to as "The Golden Age of Wealth Creation." But Fitz-Gerald brings more than a realization – and an understanding – to the table, here. After a decade of work, he's also developed a new computerized trading model based on a mathematical concept known as "fractals." This system allows him to predict price movements of broad indexes, or individual stocks, with a high degree of certainty. And it's particularly well suited to the kind of market we're all facing right now. Check out our latest report on these new rules, and this new market environment.]
News and Related Story Links:
China Unveils Plan to Bolster Real Estate, Ensure Growth
China Stocks Advancing as Beijing Boosts Investments
Atlas, Murchison Surge on Signs China Buying More Ore
Massive China Stimulus is Viewed as an Attempt to Help the West.
Money Morning Special Investment Report:
Five Ways to Profit From China's $585 Billion Stimulus Plan.
Money Morning News Analysis:
Bank of China Tries to Spur Economy with Fifth Rate Cut in Three Months.