How to Invest in China’s New High-Tech Economy
I’m pleased to share with you that our China Region Fund (USCOX) beat its benchmark, the Hang Seng Composite Index (HSCI), by an impressive margin for the one-year, three-year and five-year periods, as of August 1. The fund has closely tracked the HSCI, but since late February of this year, it’s pulled sharply ahead.
There have been recent fears among economists and investors alike that China’s debt-fueled economy would contract as it transitions from old-school manufacturing to services, but the Asian giant has been far more resilient than most anticipated. Its gross domestic product (GDP) for the second quarter rose 6.9 percent over the same period last year, beating expectations and putting the country on track to meet the International Monetary Fund’s 2017 growth forecast of 6.5 percent.
June economic data was particularly robust. Services were among the main contributors to growth, rising 7.7 percent year-over-year. Industrial production accelerated 7.6 percent during the month. Exports rose 11.3 percent compared to June 2016, totaling nearly $200 billion.
China’s manufacturing industry also continued to expand, with the country’s official purchasing manager’s index (PMI) posting a 51.4 in July. While this is down slightly from June’s 51.7, it’s still above 50, indicating growth, and marks the 12th straight month of expansion.
This has all been a tailwind for USCOX, but we managed to beat the HSCI mainly by pivoting toward what I call China 2.0 and overweighting companies involved in high-tech industries. The second-largest economy has long fulfilled the role as the world’s top workhorse, producing biblical amounts of nearly every key resource, from cement to coal to steel. But lately, China has begun focusing its massive workforce and intellectual capital on advanced manufactured goods and services, which its own citizens demand more and more of as incomes rise.
This is where we see the most attractive opportunities for growth in China—not necessarily in the cement factories of Anhui Province but in the tech hubs of Shenzhen, Shanghai and Beijing.
China’s Rapid Digitalization
As the economic think tank Milken Institute wrote in September 2016, Shenzhen is “one of the pioneers in China’s new economy.” Not only is the city a fast-growing tech hub, but it’s also a “fertile ground for startup companies.”
The city is home to Chinese internet services provider Tencent, which surpassed Wells Fargo in April as the world’s 10th biggest company by value. It’s one of the largest holdings in USCOX and has been a top performer of 2017, up 70 percent year-to-date as of August 7.
The firm’s online payment system, Tenpay, has been a phenomenal revenue driver as China has steadily become the world’s largest e-commerce market, representing 42 percent of all online transactions globally as of 2016. That’s up remarkably from only 0.4 percent of all such transactions in 2005, according to management consulting firm McKinsey & Company.
It’s not hard to see what’s driving this rapid digitalization. Today’s China, with a relatively youthful median age of 37 and high urbanization rate, has 731 million internet-users—more than the U.S. and European Union combined. Since 2012, the country has been the world’s largest smartphone market, which has benefited companies such as Tencent.
It’s also been a tailwind for Chinese electronic components producers, Sunny Optical Technology Group among them. The research and development company is one of the largest cell phone camera module manufacturers in the world, but it also produces lenses for numerous other applications, including microscopes, drones, TVs, automobiles and more.
One of our top holdings in USCOX, Sunny Optical is up 185 percent year-to-date as of August 7. Its stock popped 17 percent on July 18 after the company reported net profit for the first half of the year was 120 percent over the same period in 2016.
Among other Chinese tech firms we like are BYD Electronic, TravelSky Technology and Apple-supplier AAC Technologies.
Autos Driving Fund Performance
Also driving fund performance were automobile manufacturers. As the number one auto market, China had a knockout 2016, with sales jumping 13.7 percent to 28 million units as consumers took advantage of the government’s tax cut on smaller-engine vehicles. The country registered more than 352,000 new electric vehicles in 2016, compared to only 159,000 in the U.S.
Sales slipped in the first quarter of this year as the tax cut was reduced, but they recovered in June, rising 2.3 percent compared to the same month last year.
Our two favorite Chinese auto names right now are Guangzhou and Geely Auto, the latter of which was our top holding in USCOX as of June 30. Geely, which bought Swedish car-manufacturer Volvo in 2010, is China’s largest non-government controlled automaker. July sales rose an amazing 88 percent compared to the same month last year, bringing the company’s market capitalization up to $22 billion. That’s about half of Ford Motors’ $43 billion market cap.
Year-to-date as of August 7, Geely shares are up more than 150 percent.
Old Economy Still Thriving
None of this is to suggest that China’s old economy, characterized by raw materials production and low-cost manufacturing, is disappearing any time very soon. The country cranked out a record amount of raw steel in June, with output rising to 73.23 million metric tons, a 5.7 percent increase over June 2016. Mill and smelter operators, responding to high steel prices, didn’t seem fazed by President Donald Trump’s threat to impose tariffs on Chinese steel, used in everything from cars to bridges to skyscrapers.
We’re focusing mostly on more advanced, high-tech industries, however, because that’s where we see the greatest opportunities for growth. The results, as you can see in the performance charts above, speak for themselves.
China's Push Toward Excellence Delivers a Global Robotics Investment Opportunity
Written by: Jeremie Capron
China is on a mission to change its reputation from a manufacturer of cheap, mass-produced goods to a world leader in high quality manufacturing. If that surprises you, you’re not the only one.
For decades, China has been synonymous with the word cheap. But times are changing, and much of that change is reliant on the adoption of robotics, automation, and artificial intelligence, or RAAI (pronounced “ray”). For investors, this shift is driving a major opportunity to capture growth and returns rooted in China’s rapidly increasing demand for RAAI technologies.
You may have heard of ‘Made in China 2025,’ the strategy announced in 2015 by the central government aimed at remaking its industrial sector into a global leader in high-technology products and advanced manufacturing techniques. Unlike some public relations announcements, this one is much more than just a marketing tagline. Heavily subsidized by the Chinese government, the program is focused on generating major investments in automated manufacturing processes, also referred to as Industry 4.0 technologies, in an effort to drive a massive transformation across every sector of manufacturing. The program aims to overhaul the infrastructure of China’s manufacturing industry by not only driving down costs, but also—and perhaps most importantly—by improving the quality of everything it manufactures, from textiles to automobiles to electronic components.
Already, China has become what is arguably the most exciting robotics market in the world. The numbers speak for themselves. In 2016 alone, more than 87,000 robots were sold in the country, representing a year-over-year increase of 27%, according to the International Federation of Robotics. Last month’s World Robot Conference 2017 in Beijing brought together nearly 300 artificial intelligence (AI) specialists and representatives of over 150 robotics enterprises, making it one of the world’s largest robotics-focused conference in the world to date. That’s quite a transition for a country that wasn’t even on the map in the area of robotics only a decade ago.
As impressive as that may be, what’s even more exciting for anyone with an eye on the robotics industry is the fact that this growth represents only a tiny fraction of the potential for robotics penetration across China’s manufacturing facilities—and for investors in the companies that are delivering or are poised to deliver on the promise of RAAI-driven manufacturing advancements.
Despite its commitment to leverage the power of robotics, automation and AI to meet its aggressive ‘Made in China 2025’ goals, at the moment China has only 1 robot in place for every 250 manufacturing workers. Compare that to countries like Germany and Japan, where manufacturers utilize an average of one robot for every 30 human workers. Even if China were simply trying to catch up to other countries’ use of robotics, those numbers would signal immense near-term growth. But China is on a mission to do much more than achieve the status quo. The result? According to a recent report by the International Federation of Robotics (IFR), in 2019 as much as 40% of the worldwide market volume of industrial robots could be sold in China alone.
To understand how the country can support such grand growth, just take a look at where and why robotics is being applied today. While the automotive sector has historically been the largest buyer of robots, China’s strategy reaches far and wide to include a wide variety of future-oriented manufacturing processes and industries.
Electronics is a key example. In fact, the electrical and electronics industry surpassed the automotive industry as the top buyer of robotics in 2016, with sales up 75% to almost 30,000 units. Assemblers such as Foxconn rely on thousands of workers to assemble today’s new iPhones. Until recently, the assembly of these highly delicate components required a level of human dexterity that robots simply could not match, as well as human vision to help ensure accuracy and quality. But recent advancements in robotics are changing all that. Industrial robots already have the ability to handle many of the miniature components in today’s smart phones. Very soon, these robots are expected to have the skills to bolster the human workforce, significantly increasing manufacturing capacity. Newer, more dexterous industrial robots are expected to significantly reduce human error during the assembly process of even the most fragile components, including the recently announced OLED (organic light-emitting diode) screens that Samsung and Apple introduced on their latest mobile devices including the iPhone X. Advancements in computer vision are transforming how critical quality checks are performed on these and many other electronic devices. All of these innovations are coming together at just the right time for a country that is striving to create the world’s most advanced manufacturing climate.
Clearly, China’s trajectory in the area of RAAI is in hyper drive. For investors who are seeking a tool to leverage this opportunity in an intelligent and perhaps unexpected way, the ROBO Global Robotics & Automation Index may help. The ROBO Index already offers a vast exposure to China’s potential growth due to the depth and breadth of the robotics and automation supply chain. As China continues to improve its manufacturing processes to meet its 2025 initiative, every supplier across China’s far-reaching supply chains will benefit. Wherever they are located, suppliers of RAAI-related components—reduction gears, sensors, linear motion systems, controllers, and so much more—are bracing for spikes in demand as China pushes to turn its dream into a reality.
Today, around 13% of the revenues generated by the ROBO Global Index members are driven by China’s investments in robotics and automation. Tomorrow? It’s hard to say. But one thing is for certain: China’s commitment to improving the quality and cost-efficiency of its manufacturing facilities is showing no signs of slowing down—and its reliance on robotics, automation, and artificial intelligence is vital to its success.
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