While the US Treasury bond sell-off goes on, the market’s sorting of emerging markets is brutal. One factor matters above all others: does the country have a current account surplus or deficit? In other words, does it need to attract foreign capital or not?
The following chart was produced by John Lomax, emerging market equity strategist at HSBC. Since tapering talk began in May, it shows that emerging markets have been bifurcated. Those with a surplus prosper, those with a deficit sell off. This is how shares in the two classes of countries have performed this year, relative to the MSCI emerging markets index:
Value investors are getting excited about emerging markets again after their terrible performance over the past few months.
The problem, as Arjun Divecha, chairman of Boston’s GMO, says, is that mostly what’s cheap is commodity-related stocks set to suffer from the slowdown of demand in China. Domestically-oriented companies are down, but aren’t that cheap.
There are a couple of really cheap areas, though. He points to Russian oil shares, and Chinese banks.
Both have horrible fundamentals. Russia is stuck between recession-hit Europe and slowing China, and has some of the worst corporate governance in the world.
Chinese banks are directly exposed to the slowdown in the country’s economy, are being told to lend less (hurting profitability), face higher funding costs (hurting profitability) and risk the bursting of the credit bubble (which would expose the bad debts from their relaxed lending decisions of the past four years).
Given all that, shares would need to be very very cheap to consider buying them. And they are. Charts showing just how cheap Chinese stocks have become follow after the break.
Shanghai shares have hit levels not seen since the depths of crisis in 2009. But James Mackintosh, investment editor, says the domestic gloom is combining with a growing faith in the Chinese outlook among international investors.
Those of a bearish inclination have been having a hard time this summer in the west, but China is a whole ‘nother thing. The Shanghai Composite is at another three and a half year low, and has been falling, on and off, since its post-crisis peak in August 2009.
Another way of looking at China is to say it is suffering from the effects of an outrageous policy-induced bubble, which was partially reinflated by the government during the crisis.
This chart shows the Shanghai index against the Nasdaq during the dotcom bubble, both rebased. In green is the S&P 500. The wild swings in China and pure-play dotcoms make the booms and busts of the S&P look tame – but still left those investors able to get their money into Chinese onshore shares (protected by capital controls) better off, at least for the moment.
Investors in luxury goods producers tend to spend a lot of time following what’s going on in China, for good reason. China’s legions of corrupt officials have a penchant for bling (as well as luxury cars and gambling), and plenty of ability to garner the cash needed for fancy western watches and handbags. Lately they’ve been cutting back, as the slowing economy and rising scrutiny from bloggers and the public makes open diplays of wealth less acceptable.
It might be easier simply to focus on what is going on in the US. Are households finding their share portfolios rising faster than their house prices? Shares are easier to cash in to fund that oh-so-desirable Cartier watch, although most people would have to sell their house to afford a £1.2m handbag.
The S&P 500 has almost completed its round trip, and done so remarkably quickly. It only has about 5 per cent to go before it reaches its all-time high from 2007. Today’s video guest, the ever-interesting David Ranson, suggests that this was predictable, because asset markets reliably follow an exponential recovery path after a big fall.
Certainly, that pattern fits this recovery remarkably well:
What should we believe about China? That is the topic of today’s Note video with James Kynge, principal of the FT’s China research service, China Confidential. Uncertainty currently roils both China’s economics and its politics.
Plainly it is hard to spin the abrupt and unexplained disappearance of prospective premier Xi Jinping in any way that is positive. He is supposedly about to become the world’s second most powerful man – we still do not even know the date for the Congress that will approve that appointment, but it is due next month – and yet he has suddenly disappeared from public life. The news overnight (after we recorded the video) that he was named in a list of dignitaries expressing condolences to the family of a deceased , removes some of the more alarming explanations for his absence, but speculation about his health continues. The continued refusal to provide any official explanation for his absence is a classic example of Chinese opacity.