Behind China’s wall, there is much, much more than what meets the eye. Have you taken a look INSIDE those newly built skyscrapers of theirs? There isn’t an inside, just an outside. I’m no poet or Hemmingway, but are not China’s empty skyscrapers a metaphor for China itself? Did you know that North Korea has one of the largest hotels ever built in the world?! Who is staying there? No one; the building was constructed to simply provide the smoke and mirrors for North Korea’s government. And that’s exactly it, the government is in control of what is seen or hidden. Ultimately, putting one’s faith in China is putting your faith in China’s government. I was once told by the former NFL player and coach Herm Edwards; “what you do in the dark, will eventually come to the light.”
There are 3 main areas of China that are to be discussed: growth, real estate, and the society.
Let us start with growth. For those who are in investment banking or company valuations, growth is a supreme creature. When valuing a company, one typically looks at growth and margins, among other things. If a company is experiencing high growth, it can be assumed that the growth will eventually lead to a level of sustainability (typically 5 – 8 percent). Otherwise, a company may end up growing into infinity, NOT REALISTIC. But, what is obtainable is preserving the margins that the company had during the high growth years. There may be other instances where margins are reduced by the entrants of competition instead of market saturation. Looking at Procter & Gamble who has the 4th largest market cap as an example, who has annual revenue of roughly $80 billion, still maintains an operating margin (EBIT/Revenue) of 20% while its revenue grows between 5-8 percent annually. Let us return to China, their GDP has grown an average of 10% for the last 30 years, and they now have the third largest nominal GDP in the world (behind the U.S. and Japan). Growth will start to decline in China simply due to the fact they have reached a size where growth will come from the growth of other foreign GDPs and efficiency improvements. When growth rates decline, future earnings estimates decline, and equity prices fall. The Shanghai SE Composite Index, which is composed of 30 Chinese stocks, is down nearly 60% from its highs of October 2007. Since the firstday of 2010, the Chinese index is down over 26%. Compared to the Dow Jones Industrial Average during the same period, the U.S. has outperformed China by 19%. Once again, China’s growth will have to come from foreign GDP growth and efficiency improvements. Both take time to develop and implement.
China’s real estate has been a topic of major discussion recently. Values of property have been increasing faster than what was seen during the U.S. housing bubble. In fact, real estate values in Beijing’s city center have leaped as much as 6.5% in a single week. The demand for property is truly driving the prices. With a rush to the developed cities from the farmlands by Chinese citizens combined with the entrance of foreign professionals, a siege of demand has swept over the property market. Most notably is the type of new housing projects that are being and have been constructed in China, the “upscale” or “luxury” condos. For anyone who has been following the U.S. housing crises, the amount of deserted high-rise luxury condos has been astronomical. The city of Miami is a perfect example of this. It’s not the ultra wealthy who are living in these types of condos, but the newer upper-middle class who depend significantly on their paychecks. When a recession happens, this upper-middle class is the first to downgrade, leaving their condos behind. So what has the Chinese government done? They have implemented some restrictions on individuals buying second and third properties and increased the down payment requirements. But the banks are still exposed like never before. In a press release issued by credit rating agency Ficth, they described how Chinese banks are packaging the loans and selling them to investors at an incredible speed. Hmmm, sound familiar? In fact, it was reported that Chinese banks are now involving themselves in vastly complicated transactions to circumvent the restrictions implemented by the government. It gets worse, the Chinese banks are now realizing the increasing public following of their transactions and large loan balances so they are cutting off more and more access to information on their balance sheets. Scared yet? Going back to the demand side of the Chinese housing, it is still there. However, it is the uncertainty of future government actions and the knowledge of the U.S. housing crises that has frightened some buyers.
Finishing with the society of China, one can really begin to understand the country’s future. China has a political system known as Communism, and a business system known as Capitalism. Although it is not true capitalism, it is very strong system. We need to understand the basics of human demands. First there are things like food, water, and shelter. Then love and growth, etc. What is happening in China is that many of the first order needs of society have been met, and now the second level has been fulfilled too. But humans always want more, and the Chinese people want more as well. New desires like the right to vote, travel, own property, and privacy are now being demanded. Many of these, the communist government does not want their people to have. It is through the growth and prosperity of the economy of China that has silenced the cries for more rights. It is in the best interest of the government to do everything in their power to keep the economy vigorous. It’s now that one can see that putting faith in China is ultimately putting one’s faith in their government.