By now, nearly everyone is familiar with China’s emergence as an economic superpower on the strength of its exports and manufacturing. But did you know that China has now become the world’s second-largest consumer of luxury goods? In a recent trip to mainland China and Hong Kong, I was surprised to see so many Chinese consumers voraciously buying up high-end goods like Louis Vuitton handbags, Omega watches, Porsche automobiles and even private jets.
Certainly, the Chinese affluent class has come a long way over the past decade. Just last year some $9.4 billion was spent on high-end luxury goods. That represents 27.5% of the entire world’s luxury goods market. And considering the fact that there currently are some 1 million U.S. dollar millionaires in the country, I expect to see a continuation of luxury goods spending binge we witnessed last year.
Now, 1 million millionaires may seem like a lot of people, and it is, but when you consider how many people there are in China — over 1.3 billion and climbing — you get the sense that there are a whole lot of Chinese that still aren’t able to afford the kind of luxury goods the affluent class can. But the key thing here to understand, however, is that luxury goods are just one part of a booming market for consumer stocks in China. With tremendous economic growth — an 8.7% jump in gross domestic product in 2009 — it’s not just the very wealthy who now can afford the smaller luxuries in life. In fact, China’s rising economic tide truly is lifting all boats, and that means that the middle class can now afford consumer products that just a few years ago they could never be able to afford.
That’s why Coca-Cola (KO) saw 17% higher profit in 2009 compared to the previous year. Sales in China and Asia accounted for the majority of the company’s 3% growth in worldwide sales. Or why fast food giant McDonald’s (MCD) saw a 10% increase in sales in Asia in February.
There are many U.S.-based blue chips like Coke and McDonald’s that are super-sizing their sales by jumping into China. But for my money, the biggest growth potential from the Chinese consumer boom lies within Chinese stocks themselves. I suspect that the growth of China-based companies designed to meet the demand for the smaller luxuries in life are going to be the real winners emerging from the China growth miracle, and as such investors here in the U.S. will want to get there money into stocks that cater to this rising Chinese middle class consumer.
China Cast Education (CAST) provides an invaluable luxury that can help reshape individuals, and indeed an entire society, and that’s education. This e-learning, training services and higher education provider is the quintessential for-profit education company in China. As the nation’s wealth continues building, more and more citizens will be able to attend institutions of higher learning like China Cast.
When a populace becomes richer, it can afford the luxury of travel, and that’s what Ctrip.com (CTRP) enables the Chinese people to do. The company’s website allows travelers to buy airline tickets, book hotel rooms, rent cars and plan activities all from one convenient destination offering very good discount deals.
Finally, what more important personal luxury is there than the ability to jump in your own automobile and head out for a drive? Many Chinese can do just that, in part due to Wonder Auto Technology (WATG). This company is a true pure play on the tremendous growth of the Chinese auto market, as it supplies electrical components, rods, shafts and engine valves primarily to Chinese auto producers. Essentially, this Chinese auto company stands to grow no matter what kind of cars the Chinese buy, as they supply the majority of China’s automotive manufacturers.
While mundane items such as a private education, travel and a car might not seem like “luxury goods,” these are areas that stand to benefit most from the boom in Chinese consumer spending among the newly minted Chinese middle class. They represent affordable luxuries that a decade ago most Chinese could only dream about. It’s these kinds of goods companies that I suspect will be the real winners in Chinese economic boom, and as such, smart investors around the globe should take note.
Note: At the time of this writing, Robert Hsu held positions in CAST, CTRP and WATG.
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