It’s hard to write about international investing today without obsessing about the crackdown on peaceful protesters in Egypt, the future of Saudi Arabia and the direction of grain and oil prices.
But I’m going to try. Because affecting and important as these stories are, there are others that matter at least as much to everyone’s economic well-being.
For example, while the opinions of Egyptian students on democracy are nothing short of inspirational, the opinions of Chinese factory managers about their immediate business prospects proved reassuringly boring. Sentiment cooled a bit in the last month without telegraphing a serious slowdown in an economy still growing 10% a year.
Asian growth, the long-term trend lifting half the planet’s population out of poverty, remains on track despite an early salvo of interest-rate hikes aimed at slowing inflation. If anything, Egypt’s example will have Beijing erring on the side of jobs and price controls over rapid monetary tightening.
Ed Yardeni agrees. “It is very unlikely that central bankers in the emerging economies will tighten to the extent that economic growth will be impacted much,” the economist writes. “This is especially so now that more of them need to worry about social and political instability. In other words, they will talk tough and maybe tighten some more, but they will learn to live with the inflationary consequences of rising commodity prices.”
Run Rabbit, Run
China starts the Year of the Rabbit with plenty of positives to chew on, not least of them the economic recovery in its largest export market. Another million or so of new US jobs would figure to turn down the heat from Washington over currency and trade. This is not, after all, an election year.
The Shanghai Composite index has bounced more than 4% since hitting a four-month low last week. Hong Kong stocks have also been acting well, adding 2% Wednesday after a modest correction. Taiwan’s index is challenging its May 2008 highs.
East Asia’s resilience has been supported by a breakout of outright euphoria in ailing Europe. Greek stocks are up 26% in dollar terms since the new year dawned, while Paris stocks have added 9% against the greenback. All this on expectations for a beefed up pan-European rescue fund, though the wrangling goes on about what exactly it will or won’t do. Still, with smart money piling into the National Bank of Greece (NYSE: NBG), sentiment has clearly turned since the near-panic of November.
True, Latin American stocks have had a down month, and India’s a real bad one. But the underlying economies have weathered worse shocks.
Two Chinese Overachievers
My faith in the resilience of global growth is underpinned by the action in two Chinese ADRs traded in the US. Spreadtrum (Nasdaq: SPRD) first came to my attention in mid-December after I excerpted a Buy recommendation for the Chinese chip designer from the astute Nicholas Vardy. The stock fetched $18 then. Six weeks later, it’s almost at $23 and in danger of vertical takeoff on this beautiful chart:
Spreadtrum is benefiting from the rollout of China’s proprietary 3-G wireless standard, designed to bypass Western patents and encourage home-grown technology. Spreadtrum has friends in high places: state-owned telecom giant China Mobile (NYSE: CHL) is a leading customer, and Samsung (OTC:SSNLF) is another partner. Chinese President Hu Jintao visited the company’s Shanghai headquarters a year ago, and the noted US technology investors Silver Lake bought a 10% stake in March.
Orders rising rapidly from a low base have ensured that, despite the stock’s ascent, it trades at just 14 times estimated earnings for 2011. With revenue up 150% year-over-year, that multiple looks cheap. Qualcomm (NYSE: QCOM) is priced at 17 times its assumed earnings in 2012.
Like Spreadtrum, solar supplier ReneSola (NYSE: SOL) has a market cap of approximately $1 billion. Unlike Spreadtrum, it’s coming off a tough stretch that saw the share price drop 45% from mid-October to mid-December by worries about evaporating European subsidies, and sector-wide malady. But the company’s bullish outlook never wavered, and the stock is up 33% in 2011. At five times current-year earnings and trailing cash flow, the stock should have more sunny days ahead.