Asia continues to lag other regions for integrating ESG principles with investing; better data and stronger regulatory requirements will help institutional investors, market observers say.
Anyone with exposure to A-shares as well as to H-shares and red-chips has heard the conventional wisdom that the China equities story will run out of steam this summer or autumn, after the feel-good hype of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games exhausts itself and the nation wakes up to a hangover of pollution, exorbitantly expensive showcase architectural white elephants, and ornery city-dwellers angry at losing their home to the latest ring road development.
The post-Olympic bust has some precedent. The municipal governments of Montreal and Athens found themselves in debt and never made good on the investment promise of hosting the games. With the A-share market having performed so strongly for two years, it is common to hear people proclaim the China bull run will end once this last burst of patriotic sports adrenaline runs its course. This sort of thing is quoted not only by the average punter on the street but by seasoned finance professionals too.
But there are reasons why some fund managers are calm in the face of this certain disaster. For one thing, the accepted wisdom seems to be touted mainly by foreigners.
"No one in China talks about the Olympics as a driver or inflection point for economic growth," says Michael Harnett, global emerging markets equity strategist at Merrill Lynch in New York, after a recent trip to visit mainland fund managers with QDII [offshore] investments.
Foreign investors will continue to pour money into the China and Hong Kong markets this year. Recession in America and ho-hum stockmarkets in much of the Western world will ensure China remains on investors' maps.
But what about globalisation? What about a US slowdown wiping out Chinese exporters? That seems less likely by the day. For one thing, the renminbi has continued to depreciate against the euro even as it rose 7% against the dollar over the course of 2007. So it is no surprise that Europe has become a larger export destination than the US for Chinese goods. China's export story has more outlets than just the US.
If anything, while economies remain integrated, financial markets have de-coupled. "Over the past few years, decoupling clearly has been a reality for the global economy," says Richard Urchin, head of asset allocation and economic research at BlackRock in New York. "We think that the de-coupling can remain one."
As for an Olympic hangover, Beijing's investments never reached a significant percentage of national GDP, now reckoned to be around $30 trillion, ¡making China the world¦s fourth-largest economy, notes Stuart Leckie, chairman of consultancy Stirling Finance in Hong Kong.
Instead of paring back, global fund managers are queuing up. The government is expected to hand out an additional $10 billion worth of investment quotas to qualified foreign institutional investors this year, while more fund managers, including hedge funds, form joint ventures onshore. Even if economic growth slows to between 9% and 10% of GDP, this doesn't imply a stockmarket crash. "Many managers are still interested in buying China on the cheap," Leckie says.
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