This week, we saw China’s gross domestic product grow less than 7 percent in a quarter for the first time since 2009. Meanwhile, the country’s stock market has been a proverbial bounce house, moving up and down faster than President Xi Jinping can devalue the currency or pump extra funds into the economy.
All this has had a screeching effect on the U.S., with the Standard & Poor’s 500 index down 3.5 percent since the beginning of August, and reports of gloom are filling the headlines.
But while analysts and investors want to blame China’s woes for the U.S. market’s latest hiccup, there are reasons to believe that Beijing’s slowdown not only has little impact on U.S. companies, but can actually prove bountiful for certain industries and investments.
Part of the reason for the upheaval is due to China’s decision to transition from a manufacturing-focused economy to one geared around the consumer. If the country can pull off the evolution – which there are signs that it might – then it could prove valuable to many U.S. companies as well.
1. U.S. companies aren’t worried.
Contrary to many reports, the U.S. doesn’t have a large stake in the growth of China. Research firm FactSet pegs that about only 10 percent of sales for S&P 500 companies come from the Asia-Pacific region. China and Japan make up a large proportion of those sales.
Of course, some companies have a strong exposure. For example, Yum! Brands (ticker: YUM), the parent company of KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, generates nearly 60 percent of revenues from China. Yum says it will spin off its China division into a separate organization, in part because of struggles circumventing the country’s changing economic landscape while under the control of the parent company.
But Yum is the outlier. For the most part, it’s likely “more companies in the S&P 500 have currency exposure than China exposure,” says John Butters, senior earnings analyst at FactSet. It’s the strong U.S. dollar, near five-year highs, that companies more often blame for dragging down sales.
Early in this quarter’s earnings season, FactSet measured the number of times S&P 500 companies mentioned China in a negative instance. While only about 5 percent of the companies had reported when FactSet took the measure, a mere 13 percent of companies had stated China’s economy was an issue. On the contrary, 78 percent say the strength of the U.S. dollar led to weaker sales.
2. Opportunities are out there.
Ever since President George W. Bush’s administration, the U.S. has urged China to move to a more consumer-focused economy. When President Xi took the helm, it appeared as if he agreed and would take steps to encourage this transition.
“The growth opportunities is in services and the advanced technology sector,” says Robert A. Kapp, a Washington state-based independent China consultant and former president of the U.S-China Business Council. As more opportunities open in the services sector, and jobs grow, it’s “congruent where U.S. companies has the most to offer.”
Areas such as high-tech and medical services, in particular, could become in far greater demand as the growing middle class in the region demands better tools and care. These are areas where the U.S. has strength and where companies could profit. It depends, however, on how open China will be with allowing U.S. companies to conduct business within its borders, and “under what conditions,” Kapp says.
IBM Corp. (IBM) is shining some light onto those stipulations. The Wall Street Journal reported that IBM is allowing Chinese government officials to look at the company’s source code. This is the blueprint in which IBM’s software runs, and it irks U.S. government officials and technology companies over fear of espionage and intellectual property theft.
There’s no doubt that China will make sure the stakes to play in the country are high. Still, others will likely follow IBM’s lead for a piece of the growing service pie.
3. China bonds show signs of strength.
One tactic Beijing is using to stem an all-out crisis is encouraging lending. By reducing interest rates and easing certain requirements to provide loans, China’s leaders hope to keep money flowing.
“One of the sectors benefiting from this would be real estate development, with strong policy support in terms of easing onshore bond issuance requirements and lowering mortgage rules,” says Christopher Yip, S&P’s director of corporate bond ratings.
These efforts have also pushed down yields on Chinese bonds. Bond yields move inversely to price, which means bonds are now expensive. Another factor leading to the increased interest in bonds is it’s a safer haven than the stock market right now. Investors are using bonds to increase exposure to China while waiting to see where stocks eventually go. This has pressed down yields in the country by over 50 basis points this year, creating a 3.1 percent yield on a 10-year government bond.
Meanwhile, the S&P China Bond Index, which measures performance of Chinese corporate bonds, has risen 6 percent in 2015. “The bond market’s expansion also demonstrates the ample liquidity onshore,” Yip says. All this allows more money available for investments locally.
Since bonds are long-term investments, it may also signal the belief by many investors that China’s efforts to transition from a manufacturing economy to a consumer-focused one will eventually take hold.
If U.S. companies can get a seat at that table, then today’s China struggles could turn into tomorrow’s gains. Instead of a gloom-and-doom approach to China, maybe it’s more of a wait-and-see.
Written by Ryan Derousseau of U.S. News & World Report
(Source: U.S. News & World Report)