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Time to buy China stocks, say market analysts

Publication Date : 13-02-2014


Strategists see buying opportunities to invest in Chinese equities, citing low valuations in the market as well as expectations of a better year ahead. However, with any benefits of structural reform taking time to show, volatility is expected to continue.

"We are positive in the near term for Chinese equities as far as the current pricing of asset continues," said Timothy Moe, chief Asia-Pacific Strategist of the Goldman Sachs Group Inc.

"Although there are legitimate concerns over China, the market has already been through a lot of pain. We believe there is room for a technical rally. However many bearish comments there have been, the market has not gone down but has traded across a very wide range. Eight times in the last two-and-half years the Hang Seng China Enterprises Index went up and down 30 per cent. The average duration for each of these moves is between four to six months. Now the market has just come down 18 per cent and the valuation is at 1.1 times of the book - a 12-month low. We think there are good reasons to engage in China at the moment."

The investment bank maintains an "overweight" view on China stocks and predicts the CSI300, a benchmark index reflecting mainland's equity markets, to reach 2,880 by the end of 2014, implying a 19 per cent return on earnings growth in the year and a gradual confidence in reform development. "Our baseline for China is 7.6 per cent gross domestic product growth this year. We believe the overall risk in the financial sector and credit contingency is low," said Moe.

While sluggish exports have dragged growth down in China, the bank is expecting a greater contribution from the sector this year because the atmosphere in developed markets is shifting.

"As an economy largely reliant on exports, China should receive the ongoing tapering in the US as fundamentally positive news," said Helen Zhu, chief China strategist of Goldman Sachs, referring to the US government's declining issuance and purchase of US bonds. "Janet Yellen's decision on Tuesday means there is confidence and optimism in the economy. In the short term, cash outflow is undeniable.

But in the long run, the impact is rather positive especially for Northern Asian markets. External facing industries will benefit."

Yellen, who took the helm of the US Federal Reserve earlier this month, made it clear the central bank is on track to keep trimming its stimulus in her first public hearing in front of US lawmakers on Tuesday. She told Congress she expects "a great deal of continuity" in the Fed's monetary policy. Last December, the Fed started to reduce bond-purchasing activities.

In addition, Zhu also pointed out that "one of the key things to focus on as a multiyear investment theme" is the ongoing structural reform in China's finance industry. "Thanks to the new leadership and grand plan underscored by the Third Plenary Session, we feel a brighter prospect in the medium to long term. That opens the door to a re-rating potential over time," she said.

Sharing the optimism is Leung Chun-fai, head of investment strategy of HK and Greater China at Standard Chartered Bank (HK) Ltd. "Mainland companies are worth paying attention to in 2014 because the performance of A-shares has lagged behind most of the markets outside China for two years. As reform policies launched last year haven't been priced in, we expect a rosier year. There should at least be a gentle pickup. Good news is expected in March, which is when annual reports are published," Leung said.

However, Zhu from Goldman Sachs cautioned at the same time that it's not yet time to lean back. "We are not yet at the beginning of a multiyear bull market in China. The structural reform will be a gradual and bumpy one. Moves to fix overcapacity, local government investment vehicles and systemic risks in shadow banking will have negative effects in the near term. Volatility in the market will continue," she said.


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