The impact on Chinese equities of the coronavirus epidemic should be short-lived. We are optimistic about the long-term market trends.
Once the situation normalises, we believe investors will be presented with interesting entry points, allowing them to benefit from secular sustainable returns.
Here is the view from our China equities team.
The rebound and inflows after the extended Chinese New Year holiday were initially led mostly by investment coming from national team money and insurance companies. Investors now appear to be regaining some confidence in equity markets with the outbreak looking more contained in China (outside Hubei province where it originated).
Exhibit 1: Chinese equity markets saw a slight rebound earlier in February before correcting again; trading is likely to remain volatile ahead of company earnings reports on the first quarter – graph shows the performance of onshore and offshore markets (in USD; Dec 2019 = 100)
The global impact of the economic slowdown in China is much bigger today than it was 17 years ago during the SARS crisis given China’s bigger share of the global economy, global trade and global oil demand. However, any economic damage might be contained because Beijing has relatively quickly taken firm measures; medical care is better; and online shopping supports overall retail sales.
If the situation starts normalising by March, we estimate the negative impact on corporate earnings to be 20-30% (excluding financials) for Q1 2020 (vs. initial estimates). Although Q1 2020 economic growth is expected to be severely impacted, we expect the downside risk to full-year growth to be manageable. The combination of stabilised trade tensions, the recovery in global industrial activity and the room for greater fiscal support should allow for a reacceleration of growth.
In contrast to SARS in 2003, we believe that the Chinese authorities are taking firmer actions, locking down cities and issuing warnings against travelling to Wuhan. We expect China’s monetary easing and fiscal policies to continue to support economic growth in a calibrated manner (e.g. more interest rate cuts in the lending facilities, more infrastructure spending). Overall, there could be a further delay in the deleveraging process. We may expect more policy support for the consumption sector. For now, we do not expect a significant loosening of housing policy.
According to big data analyses, the outbreak is expected to fade in March. If this were so, the economic damage would be limited to Q1. Restarting production will be gradual as most cities are still controlling worker inflows strictly. If the number of newly confirmed infected cases in China (outside of Hubei) does not pick up, we can assume the virus is largely under control.
The key risks include a longer-than-expected duration of the outbreak (due to Chinese workers returning to work and infection cases rising globally); US-China trade tensions escalating; less fiscal support than expected from Beijing; and rising credit defaults in China.
Further market falls may create buying opportunities for investors looking for longer-term returns in Chinese equities. Valuations of both China A and H shares look undemanding. Also, given that foreign inflows quickly resumed in May 2003 after SARS was brought under control, investors will be keenly watching for the turning point in the number of new infection cases.
Retail sales and travel are likely to be most impacted during Q1/Q2 2020, while e-commerce, IT, mobile games or healthcare should benefit the most. This outbreak should accelerate the digitalisation trend (online working, online education, online entertainment) across many businesses.
We favour the technology, healthcare, consumer sectors and selective macroeconomically driven industries such as cement.
We see opportunities related to these three structural trends: technology/innovation, consumption upgrading, and industry consolidation.
We are upbeat on Chinese equities for a number of reasons: a still-benign profit growth outlook, reasonable valuations, as well as constructive portfolio flows amid light investor positioning.
More recent posts on the situation in China
Articles on China by Chi Lo
To discover our funds and select the ones that meet your requirements, click here >
Any views expressed here are those of the author as of the date of publication, are based on available information, and are subject to change without notice. Individual portfolio management teams may hold different views and may take different investment decisions for different clients.
The value of investments and the income they generate may go down as well as up and it is possible that investors will not recover their initial outlay.
Investing in emerging markets, or specialised or restricted sectors is likely to be subject to a higher-than-average volatility due to a high degree of concentration, greater uncertainty because less information is available, there is less liquidity or due to greater sensitivity to changes in market conditions (social, political and economic conditions).
Some emerging markets offer less security than the majority of international developed markets. For this reason, services for portfolio transactions, liquidation and conservation on behalf of funds invested in emerging markets may carry greater risk.