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Investing in China: I

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I have talked about investing in China many times in this blog. Recently a good friend of my wife asked this question: how to protect her parents retirement (life style) now that they are near retirement?

I think this is a very good question, also a very common one. Recently I read Charlie Munger’s book Poor Charile’s Almanac, and he said three stocks are enought (diversified) if they are good stocks and the person trully understands it. I agree.

So, let me apply this three stocks approach and run a hypertheoritical portfolio for my wife’s friend (‘s parents 🙂

The first stock comes to mind is 601628.SS, China Life Insurance (NYSE: LFC; HKSE: 2628.HK). I talked China Life couple times, during its Shanghai IPO (secondary offering to be precise), and “Got Yuan” post. I believe China Life is uniquely positioned to take advantage of weakened competitors (China Ping’An and AIG China subsidiary), and this down market.

China Life Insurance logo

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China: embracing bear market after Olympics?

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Couple days ago I suggested the China stock market could have a relief rally after Olympics, when the party is over without major glitches. I still belive Beijing Olympics will turn out to be ok, amid so much worries from human rights protests to security threats. I also believe Chinese economy will not stand still after the Olympics.

But I change my view on Chinese stocks today, after the Chinese ADRs dropped big in the US: from FXI (NYSE: FXI), to CHL (NYSE: CHL), to Sohu (Nasdaq: SOHU), all dropped around 5% or more today, less than 14 hours before the opening ceremony (which will begin Beijing time 8:08 PM, Aug.8 ). The problem is not only the expected slow down of Chinese economy, but also due to most Chinese stocks (from Shanghai, to Honghong, to NewYork) are over valued. Now they will get a reality check. Give an example, ICBC (1398.HK, 601398.SS), traded at 3 times book value, according to JRJ. That’s much higher than the US counter part such as BoA (NYSE: BAC), Wells Fargo (NYSE: WFC). Algthough we know US banks are in trouble lately because of subprime/credit crisis, ICBC can not justify its 3 times PB ratio if its growth slows down (which is possible).

So hold some cash, hold your breath, and I expect we are having a rough ride in the near future 🙂

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Demystify the sale of CCB shares

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Coule day a ago I came across this BoA (NYSE:BAC) bought CCB (China Construction Bank, Hongkong 0939) shares at dirt cheap price story from my Chinese friend StrengthTrader (English news here). After that I read this one original written by 21cbh, titled The Mystery of 70% Off of CCB Shares, here is a faster link from baidu finance. BTW, I always bought and liked 21cbh when I was in Shanghai last year.
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ICBC: benifit from Chinese economy?

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Last week, an American friends asked me about the booming Chinese eocnomy and how to benifit from it. There are many Chinese ADRs in listed in the US market these days, but I don’t think they are suitable for most individual investors (they are for the bolder speculators only 🙂

ICBC deposite book

ICBC, Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, 中国工商银行 or 工行 (Chinese like abbreviation too). I am using Buffett’s rules of thumb to analyze ICBC. The rules are: business is understandble, business has a moat, sound management and attractive price.

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Weekend thoughts w/e 050308

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Here is a link to Q&A transcript of Berkshire Hathaway 08 shareholders meeting. I believe this is more comprehensive than CNBC’s live blog I posted earlier.

Berkshire first quarter earning
It went down more than 60% over same period a year ago (PDF). But the number does lie sometime, because this is mostly from paper loss of very long term derivative. One may wonder how come Buffett got into this derivative thing? Isn’t that risky?

Well, in a way we are all invovled in this derivative world. Think auto insurance. When we pay premium for car insurance, it’s like buying a put for our cars and the insurance company is selling the put. If the underlying (car) got demaged, we will be paid by the insurance company for the loss. But most of times our cars are fine, and the insurance companies make money. We all know insurance is Berkshire’s main business and Buffett’s expertise area. My point is Buffett is not new to derivative. He is the financial guru of our time. While his main expertise is buying common stocks and business (in which he emphasize the moat, the durable competitive edge), he also has good understanding and made money on bonds, commodity and foreign currency etc. One interesting example I read from his latest annual letter is he bought Amazon Euro (junk) bond after dot com bubble: he got upsides both from the apperication of Euro and Amazon itself a few years later.

Chinese speaking representative in BoA
We went to the local BoA branch, and to our surprise, one of the financial representative speaks Chinese (Mandarin). He said he had worked in Beijing. One thing I heard is foreigners in Beijing tends to learn Chinese, while those in Shanghai don’t. On a related matter, it appears the interest of learning Chinese is rising among foreigners.

Food stocks

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Weekend thoughts w/e Apr 19 2008

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Currency effects
While we are heading to $4 gas (partly thanks the weak dollar), not all are victims of this trend. Think Google or IBM. Google (GOOG) and IBM reported blow out earning, while cell phone maker Nokia (NOK) reported so-so earning (or outlook) last week. One key difference is the reported currency, Google and IBM reported results in USD, while NOK reported in Euro. We all know Dollar lost a lot ground to Euro in past year, since GOOG and IBM did a lot business in Europe (and internationally), their earning and earning growth is exaggerated by the depreciation of dollar. Nokia is hit by the opposite force. A more important question to ask is: can the dollar continue to slide vs. other currencies? Personally I would not bet on GOOG or IBM if their growth is mostly from the currency effect

ICBC, Goldman Sachs, China Invest Co. and Blackstone

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Shanghai Composite 52 week low

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Shanghai composite index closed new 52 week low today, at 3094.67 (down 12% compared to a year ago).

Shanghai composite index pic
(full size pic here, powered by Google Finance)

But I don’t think too much of it, other than the valuation of China A share market is more attractive now. The composite index itself is screwed up because PetroChina A share (601857) has more than 20% of weight, much bigger than its floating shares weight. In case you did not pay attention to PetroChina (NYSE:PTR, 0857.HK), 601857 was CNY 43.96 on Nov. 06, 2007, and closed CNY 16.02 as of today Apr. 18, 2008. That’s a whopping 63.56% drop!

My simply valuation tool for A shares
A more reliable indicator for A share valuation, a tool I found useful, is this AH spread sheet. As one can see from this spead sheet, some Chinese banks’ A share (include ICBC, 601398) is very attractive now. That is, assume the H share is fairly priced. One caveat of this approach, is we can only use it for companies have both A and H shares. But again, I don’t see many gems in the A share only companies in China 🙂

China index fund/ETF (FXI, PGJ, CAF)

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ICBC released year 2007 results

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ICBC, Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, the largest bank in China (and arguably in the world), announced its year 2007 results recently. Here is the webcast (good stuff). And quote the Reuters news: ICBC earned 81.52 billion yuan ($11.56 billion) in net profit in 2007, compared with 49.3 billion yuan in 2006, a 64.9% increase.

Notes from webcast Q&A
1) Money management (fees) will not decrease as A share market goes down. There is potential in corporate customers; new products.

2) Subprime exposure was not significant. ICBC invested much more foreign currencies in US treasuries.

3) Credit risk, non-performing loan. Property dev loan 7%, personal mortgage 15%.

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Same stock different prices

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I was thinking about buying some ICBC or BoC shares in Shanghai, but the price difference of the Shanghai and Hongkong (or ADRs in NYSE) kept me from pulling the trigger. Since one Yuan is roughly worth one HKD, why would I pay premium for the A shares if I can get H Shares (or the equivalent US ADRs) for a discount?

Unless the Yuan depreciates (relative to HKD and USD) significantly (it’s possible but unlikely), buying A shares does not make sense to me.

ICBC: 601398 (Shanghai) CNY 6.80; 1398 (Hongkong) HKD 4.80

Bank of China: 601988 (Shanghai) CNY 5.80; 3988 (Hongkong) HKD 3.80

China Life: 601628 (Shanghai) CNY 48.00; 2628 (Hongkong) HKD 30.00; LFC (NYSE) USD 57.41

Note one share of LFC (ADR in NYSE) is worth 15 shares of 2628.HK, the price of 2628.HK is the same as LFC, if we consider this units conversion and HKD/USD conversion.

The main reason for the price difference is the supply and demand: Chinese people have lots of free money (in CNY), but they can only invest inside China. The China capital market has grown significantly, but it still could not meet the demand from flood of domestic investors.

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ICBC the biggest bank

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Yesterday, ICBC, Industrial and Commerce Bank of China (6001398.SS), went up 0.57 (just one cent shy of 10%), and closed at 6.37 Yuan. With that price, ICBC exceeded Citibank and became the world largest bank (market cap wise), and closes in Microsoft in terms of market cap (bloomberg).

I remember last time ICBC closed in Citibank was 3 or 4 months ago, but this time it has more sustance (I mean fundamental, or earnings). Chinese banks, along with real estate developers, are on the fire lately and people attribute that to:

1) The rise of the Yuan.

2) The continuing growth of domestic economy, along with rising CPI (inflation) and rising property value. The actual bank interest rate is negative if you consider the inflation (4%).

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