Chinese stocks are putting up another lackluster year of gains, and until questions over the Chinese property market and Chinese economy come to some sort of resolution, more frustrating returns lay ahead.
No one knows how sick (or healthy) China’s credit and real estate markets really are, or how much its central bank can thread the needle on its growth targets. This uncertainty has been weighing on Chinese stocks for so long, no wonder Chinese stocks can’t get any traction.
The Shanghai Composite is down 4% on the year-to-date, while the most popular exchange-traded fund for Chinese stocks — the iShares China Large Cap (FXI) — is off about 3.4%.
True, the second-most popular ETF for Chinese stocks — the iShares MSCI Hong Kong Index Fund (EWH) — is actually up 2.2% for the year-to-date, but that lags the S&P 500 by more than 4 percentage points.
Same old, same old: Investors have been better off keeping their money invested in the U.S. Chinese stocks have offered little more than opportunity cost.
The bottom line is that a resolution of the Chinese real estate question is long overdue — and at least one investment bank thinks it’s coming soon.
Chinese Stocks: At a Tipping Point?
Dariusz Kowalczyk, a senior economist and strategist at Credit Agricole (CRARY), says the Chinese economy has at long last reached a tipping point. Of course, it’s the real estate sector that will determine which way it tips.
As the analyst wrote in a report to clients:
“We are at a tipping point: either prices, sales and investment in real estate gradually recover as a result of the recent easing of administrative curbs, in which case the economy will rebound in the second half, or the real estate downturn will continue, causing a further slowdown in overall growth and threatening a crisis.”
The importance of the property market to Chinese stocks can hardly be overstated. After all, it accounts for about 15% of China’s economic output. Although real estate had to slow down from overheated levels, it remains a weak spot and a threat to growth projections for this year and beyond.
Let’s hope Credit Agricole is right — and that the Chinese economy tips for the better. But having heard similar calls for years now, well … don’t be surprised if this tipping point don’t tip.
As of this writing Dan Burrows did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.