Global investors need to “hit the BRICs” – literally.
Back in 2003, the Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (NYSE:GS), eager to push its clients towards global investing – especially in the emerging markets, invented the acronym “BRIC” (Brazil, Russia, India and China) to represent the four emerging markets it believed were destined to become dominant economies in the years to come.
And we concur: The BRICs are four markets investors need to carefully consider as places to put some of their money.
That’s why we here at Money Morning developed “The BRIC Report,” a new feature in which we’ll periodically update you on the latest developments in each of the BRIC economies and stock markets, and highlight some BRIC-related companies you might want to look at.
In Part I of this report, we analyzed Brazil and Russia. Here in Part II, we examine India and China.
Given that its stock market is down 23% this year, you’re probably surprised to hear that India is my favorite of the BRIC economies. Even worse: India’s torrid economic growth is throttling back a bit, and there are signs of a credit crunch.
But investors need to hear the proverbial “rest of the story.” You see: If India had no problems, its stock market would be trading at 40 times earnings – and not 18 times earnings, as it is now. In other words, India could well represent a “double” for investors with the courage to buy in now and stay the course.
Without a doubt, India remains one of the world’s great long-term growth plays, and investors today are likely getting in on the ground floor of a major long-term bull market.
India’s economic growth was 9% in 2007, and will be around 8% in 2008, so the overall market seems reasonably valued at the current multiple of 18. If India can get its political and economic houses in order, it has some very real prospects for a couple of generations of rapid growth before living standards start to approach the West and growth rates slow.
In the short-run, however, there are some potential pitfalls to be aware of. The current Indian government, in office since 2004, is a coalition between the Congress Party, which had ruled India for most of the period since independence without any great success, and the anti-market Communists. Although Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is a moderate, the government has seen India’s economic emergence as an opportunity to fund favorite projects and social programs.
The budget for the current fiscal year (ending next March) proposes an 18% spending increase, and that’s after spending rose 24% last year. The state budget deficit (federal plus local) is around 7% of gross domestic product; in any kind of recession, that could easily spike to the 10% of GDP level at which deficits become difficult to finance.
There is hope on the horizon: An election is due in May 2009, at latest, and the center-right opposition is currently leading in the opinion polls. But wise investors know better than to base their investment plan on something as uncertain as that.
India’s other big problem is inflation, currently running at 8% per annum, which is higher than short-term interest rates. Higher commodity and energy prices have affected India as they have other countries; India’s position is made more difficult by the poverty of much of the population.
The Indian government has restricted exports of rice and has subsidized other foods and gasoline (the latter makes no sense socially since automobiles are largely owned by the middle classes).
Needless to say, these subsidies and restrictions make the budget deficit worse, and will pose an additional problem when they are lifted and newly unfettered consumer prices soar in response.
Growth has now acquired huge momentum, and any conceivable Indian government will do no more than slow it temporarily. Furthermore, the economics of the contracted-out customer support and manufacturing services that India has built into a national mainstay – in the era of globalization and the Internet – is so compelling that it will inevitably continue to produce huge profits for decades to come. The question is not:
“Should I invest in India?” It’s actually: “How can I afford to ignore India?”
And the answer is: You can’t.
Stocks to consider would include Infosys Technologies Ltd. (NASDAQ:INFY), the Bangalore-based software giant, which seems pretty invulnerable to Indian or global recession and is selling at a fairly reasonable 19 times current earnings and 20 times next year’s earnings.
Another possibility is the pharmaceutical company Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories Ltd. (NYSE:RDY), a major generic drugs manufacturer that can expect to benefit from the expiration of many U.S. pharmaceutical patents in the next five years, and carries a fairly reasonable forward P/E ratio of 23.
Finally, you might consider India carmaker Tata Motors Ltd. (NYSE:TTM), whose shares currently trade at about 8.5 times earnings. In the luxury end of the market, Tata recently bought Jaguar and Land Rover from Ford Motor Co. (NYSE:F). And at the bottom end, Tata has grabbed global headlines with its $2,500 Nano, a car that’s 40% cheaper than anything else on the world market.
Charged Up Over China
As we’ve pointed out repeatedly, China is a huge opportunity: It’s already the third-largest economy in the world after the United States and Japan, and it quite possibly could be the world’s largest by 2025. Its stated growth rate is even higher than India’s, although Chinese economic statistics are pretty suspect. Nevertheless, apart from the qualms raised by the Chinese market’s six-fold increase in 2006-07, and current high valuations, there are significant weaknesses that should not be ignored.
The two biggest: China’s banking system and its high rate of inflation.
China’s banks were for years used as a piggy bank for state-operated industries, many of them major money-losers and some that were technically bankrupt. Instead of the state recording budget deficits by subsidizing rubbish, the banks would lend the money to the bad companies, recording them as current loans. The result was a mountain of bad debt in the Chinese banking system. Back in May 2006, Ernst & Young estimated the bad debt had reached $911 billion (an estimate Ernst and Young was forced to withdraw; after all, they do have a substantial auditing business in that country!).
Encouragingly, Chinese authorities are beginning to attack this problem: An estimated $130 billion of the country’s $200 billion sovereign wealth fund has been used to recapitalize parts of the banking system. Since China has $1.68 trillion of foreign exchange reserves, and the bad debts are presumably still only $1 trillion or so, China does have the financial wherewithal to solve the problem. However, using FX reserves to recapitalize the banks would be highly inflationary, providing an almost 50% increase in the money supply.
That brings us to the next problem: Inflation, which is rising sharply. China’s official inflation rate for the year ending in May is 8.3%, but the actual inflation rate is believed to be much higher.
China’s yuan has been allowed to appreciate against the dollar to combat this, but the real need is for higher interest rates, which are still below the inflation rate. It seems inevitable that China will suffer some kind of tight money crisis, in which the banking system is recapitalized and inflation conquered, while the real economy suffers accordingly. However, such a crisis has appeared inevitable for several years now, and it hasn’t happened yet.
Whether or not China suffers a short-term crunch, its long-term prospects are excellent. Its stock market remains highly illiquid, since much of the market capitalization represents state controlled companies, of which only a small portion are publicly traded. Given the problems in the banking system, financial services should be avoided, while P/E ratios in many other sectors are far above what would be considered appropriate in the West. Nevertheless, with the 30% fall in the Chinese market since last November, there are now some bargains to be found.
- CNOOC Ltd. (NYSE:CEO), China’s major international oil company, is selling at a P/E ratio of about 15. Most of its exploration activity is concentrated in China’s offshore region, but it also has operations in Australia, Indonesia and Africa. CNOOC is central to China’s search for oil resources, and critical to its future growth.
- Yanzhou Coal Mining Co. (NYSE:YZC), China’s largest coal miner, is rapidly ramping up production to meet soaring worldwide demand for coal: China alone is commissioning one new coal-fired power station per week. Selling at 17 times current earnings but only 12 times forward earnings, Yanzhou is benefiting from soaring coal prices, as well as rocketing demand.
Both CNOOC and Yanzhou are major, state-controlled behemoths. For a venture into China’s true private sector, consider a look at a medium-sized company that is active in generic pharmaceuticals in what is potentially a huge market in China for such products. That company is Simcere Pharmaceutical Group (NYSE:SCR). Its shares are currently trading at about 15 times current earnings.
[Editor’s Note: Part I of this “Special Report” ran on Friday.]