Opportunities In China’s New Economy Cycle

International | Jun 11 2024

Unveiling opportunities in China’s new economy cycle

By Wenli Zheng, Portfolio Manager for T. Rowe Price China Evolution Equity Strategy

China’s recent stock market rally has caught investors’ attention. Its economy has undergone a deep structural adjustment since 2021, bringing about a paradigm shift in its investment markets.

We believe that breaking away from reliance on traditional approaches and exploring new growth drivers can help investors to capture some of the many new investment opportunities emerging in Chinese stocks.

China's economy enters a new cycle

In recent years, the real estate industry has been in deep contraction while the issue of local government debt pressures has suppressed demand in related sectors.

The booming new energy industry from 2021 to 2022 has faced challenges of increased competition and temporary overcapacity. Traditional internet platforms and blue-chip consumer companies have also encountered growth slowdowns. However, these headwinds are well known and have been extensively analysed, and so should be largely discounted in the current market price.

Against these headwinds, positive changes are taking place in China today that should not be ignored by investors.

From a bottom-up perspective, many Chinese companies are continuously exploring new growth drivers through innovation. Chinese companies have been enhancing their global competitiveness in high-end manufacturing.

Favorable shifts in supply and demand patterns are occurring in certain traditional industries. In every economic cycle, the market leaders tend to change. This requires investors to break free from path dependency, move beyond index-weighted stocks, and delve deeper into the new investment opportunities in areas experiencing positive changes.

We believe this structural differentiation will continue, and those investors who can keenly adapt to changing dynamics and make informed stock selections are more likely to achieve desirable investment returns.

Rise of new growth leaders

Chinese internet platforms, blue-chip consumer stocks, and the healthcare sector have previously brought substantial returns to investors. These companies retain prominent positions in equity indices and investor portfolios.

However, as these companies have already expanded in size and face changing external environments, we believe many are entering a stage of growth deceleration. Investors need to reassess the prospects and valuations of some of the most popular Chinese growth stocks.

Beyond traditional blue-chip stocks, new growth leaders are emerging.

Companies leading in areas with lower penetration rates, for example, online recruitment and online music, are experiencing rapid growth through technological innovation. Leading companies in consumer sectors related to services and experiences, such as hotels and shopping centers, benefit from both market expansion and increased market concentration.

Moreover, the electrification revolution is not only driving the automotive industry but is also rapidly improving the competitiveness of Chinese companies in sectors like engineering machinery, excavators, and landscaping equipment. These structural trends are expected to continue for the next three to five years and are worthy of close attention from investors.

Traditional industries enter an upward cycle

Many traditional industries in China have experienced prolonged downward cycles over the past 10 to 15 years. As supply continues to contract, supply-demand rebalancing is gradually occurring in certain sectors.

When demand recovers and supply bottlenecks emerge, relevant companies regain some of their bargaining power and are poised to enter a profit growth cycle lasting several years. We can observe these favourable supply-demand dynamics in sectors such as shipbuilding, offshore oilfield services, aircraft leasing, and industrial metals (copper and aluminium).

Simultaneously, we believe that Chinese industries such as railway equipment, ultra-high-voltage power grids, and nuclear power will also accelerate their growth in the coming years. These sectors experienced a trough in the past three to five years but are now being propelled by the growth in end market demand, initiating new investment cycles.

Equipment suppliers in these areas benefit from high industry concentration and sufficient reserve capacity. The recovery in demand is expected to significantly improve profitability and shareholder returns.

After experiencing a prolonged period of downturn, these traditional sectors have temporarily fallen off investors' radar screens. Consequently, the market may not fully recognise the positive changes in their fundamentals. We believe that with accelerated growth in demand and improved profitability, the investment value of these sectors is likely to be re-evaluated.

Improved shareholder returns

Another encouraging development in the Chinese market is the significant improvement in shareholder returns in recent years. Dividends and share repurchases for listed Chinese companies on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange and US-listed Chinese companies with a market capitalisation exceeding USD1bn(1) have increased by over 30% compared to 2019.

The cash return rate (dividends or repurchases divided by market capitalisation) for overseas-listed Chinese companies is as high as 4.1%, surpassing mainstream markets such as the United States and Japan(2).

The increased focus on shareholder returns and dividends by state-owned enterprises is a crucial factor driving the improvement in shareholder returns. However, fundamental factors also play a vital role.

State-owned enterprises in various sectors such as energy, telecommunications, and transportation have passed through rapid expansion investment cycles. With declining capital expenditures, continued stable cash flows will likely drive these companies’ shareholder returns.

The improvement in shareholder returns is not limited to state-owned enterprises. Internet companies, including small and medium-sized enterprises, have also achieved remarkable growth in returns.

Dividends for listed internet companies in 2023 increased by over 130% compared to 2022, with the total amount of dividends and repurchases reaching US$33bn(3). With the stock valuations of many sectors at low levels, the sustained improvement in cash returns presents an effective path for valuation reassessment and value realisation.

Although China's macro-economic outlook still faces challenges, we think investors can still find attractive investment opportunities by identifying new growth leaders, reassessing traditional industries, and considering companies with improving shareholder returns.

It is important to stay informed about market dynamics, adapt to changing trends, and conduct thorough company research in order to make successful investment decisions in the Chinese equity market.


(1) As of March 31, 2024. Source: Goldman Sachs Global Investment Research.

(2) As of March 31, 2024. Source: Goldman Sachs Global Investment Research.

(3) As of March 31, 2024. Source: Goldman Sachs Global Investment Research.

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