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Six Ways to Profit as Consumerism Supplants Exports, China Throttles Up GDP Growth

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In the decade that just passed, most investors who wanted to profit from China did so by focusing on the export trend. That's no longer the right lever to pull.

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If you think about it, this all makes sense. In China, purchasing power is accelerating, so that tens of millions of people are making the transition from lower-income living to become middle-class consumers. Once that occurs, these consumers will start looking to buy stereos, washing machines, cars, and even houses -- items that Western consumers take for granted.

Various studies show that consumer spending accounts for roughly 30% of the economy. Imagine what will happen when it hits 70%, putting it on par with the United States! It'll take some time before that happens -- but not as much as you expect.

Retail spending is up 18% this year after advancing 15% last year. And some researchers suggest that the growth in Chinese retail spending is already larger than that of the growth in retail spending in the US, Japan, and eurozone economies combined.

All in all, at my firm we're expecting to see China's GDP advance at a rate of 10% or better in 2011, up from the 8.5% to 9.0% rates that I projected in 2010. And this acceleration comes in the face of some global economic challenges that continue to hamstring such markets as the United States and Japan, as well as another round of global slowing and a drop in exports that I see for next year.

Moves to Make Now

In the decade that just passed, most investors who wanted to profit from China did so by focusing on the export trend. That's no longer the right lever to pull. With the economic rebalancing, it's time to look at consumerism, health care, and such other domestically driven sectors as real estate.

"The export sector was the way to invest in China over the last 10 years, but it's not ... over the next 10 years," Isaac Souede, chairman and CEO of Permal Asset Management Inc., a hedge fund with a $150 million bet on China, told the China Daily. But now, "we are more interested in local companies with local consumption stories."

I'm going to leave you with this final thought -- and some recommendations to consider.

Many investors have a hard time understanding China because it's so "different." But when you really get right down to it, consumers in China really just want what we want: a healthy economy and productive work force with enough good-paying jobs to allow for a growth in consumption spending.

The only difference is that Beijing seems to be pulling it off while Washington struggles.

Actions to Take

If you understand that Beijing is rebalancing China's economy to emphasize internal consumption over export-driven growth, you'll also understand that you need to invest (or adjust your investments) accordingly.

Here are some pointers to get you started:
  • Root out those companies on US stock exchanges that have already made up their minds to participate. Three examples that immediately come to mind consist of fast-food icons McDonald's (MCD) and Yum Brands (YUM), and semiconductor-equipment giant Applied Materials (AMAT). McDonald's just because it's the first Western non-financial company to float yuan-denominated "panda bonds" to fund market expansion in China. Yum operates the Pizza Hut, KFC, and Taco Bell chains -- each of which are doing well with China's growing consumer class. Applied Materials relocated its solar research & development arm to Xian knowing that it will be able to develop a full line of global products there -- and also sell directly into China.

  • Invest in small-cap Chinese companies in the health care, infrastructure, and urbanization businesses. Some -- like China Integrated Energy (CBEH), which is an integrated fuels play -- are pretty straightforward, while others, like Chinacast Education Corp. (CAST), which is involved in private secondary education, may take some digging to identify and understand.

  • Pick up one or more of the small-cap, exchange-traded funds (ETFs) centered on China's markets. I particularly like Morgan Stanley China A Share Fund Inc. (CAF), for instance, because it's focused on China's tough-to-acquire "A" shares. Thanks to its unique structure, it's one of the very few ways investors can currently participate with direct ownership in China.


No positions in stocks mentioned.
Fifteen trades. All profitable. Since launching his Geiger Index trading service late last year, Money Morning Investment Director Keith Fitz-Gerald is a perfect 15 for 15, meaning he's closed every single one of his trades at a profit. And he did this during one of the most volatile periods for the U.S. stock market since the Great Depression. Fitz-Gerald says the ongoing financial crisis has changed the investing game forever, and has created a completely new set of rules that investors must understand to survive and profit in this new era. Check out our latest insights on these new rules, this new market environment, and this new service, the Geiger Index.

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