China growth outlook – is anyone concerned?

The Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco published a recent review (‘Is China Due for a Slowdown‘) of the Chinese economy and whether  we can finally expect a slowdown. The summary reads “While average income in China appears to be headed towards levels that have been associated with growth slowdowns in other countries, high income inequality between wealthier coastal provinces and the less-developed interior suggest that deceleration may not be severe”. So is this good or bad news? As to the consumer story, we look to the US and Asia’s regional consumers in a little more detail below.

Further we read the Goldman Sachs A-Share piece with great interest. In its recent update, Goldman Sachs suggests the following companies, among others, as a Buy-Rating:

– Baosteel – Steel company
– Beijing Capital – Real Estate Developer: Residential, Office, and Commercial in Beijing
– Better Life – Supermarkets
– BlueFocus – Public Relations
– Fiberhome – Telecommunications
– Hualu-Hengsheng – Chemical manufacturer
– Industrial Bank – Industrial Bank, Top 10 in the country
– Jiangsu Yuyue – Medical Equipment
– Jizhong Energy – Coal products
– Ping An (A) – Insurance
– SAIC – Automotive
– Yantai Wanhua – MDI manufacturer, largest in the region

Other stocks that offer a potential upside (on current share price) are Lushang Properties, Jiangsu Zhongnan Construction, China Merchants Bank (A), Shenzhen World Union Properties and Zhejiang Yankong Group.

While this list is interesting and gives a broad range of exposure to various sectors, it masks the wider implications that currently drive the regional and global economy. Access to the these companies is restricted to many investors. Therefore other proxies may serve as an indication of what is truly happening in the region. Below, we take a look at the state of the domestic Chinese banking sector, the regional and global consumer sentiment as gauge for current consumption trends.

Deloitte commented in a report on China’s Banking Industry in its 2012 outlook. The conclusion of the report starts by stating:

“The banking industry of China faces challenges on many fronts – to asset quality, non-performing loan levels and liquidity, to name a few. Emerging risk is perhaps the greatest challenge. With the expected
slowdown in domestic economic growth and weak external demand, new risks in the industry are growing. Industry risk is being controlled, in part, through greater regulatory scrutiny, monetary policy easing, and
local debt approval. The reform of rural financial institutions continues to move forward, further supporting growth in “Agriculture, Farmers and Villages”.”

We couldn’t agree more. The transition from an inward looking banking sector towards an industry that strives to be part of the globalization effort will take time but the forces are at work. Not only is the sector catching up fast, it will certainly lead in a number of segments not before long. The easing of the RMB exchange rate ‘gridlock’ is likely to enable a more balanced approach by its domestic banks in line with investor expectations both domestically and internationally. The domestic banking sector certainly must get its act together to avoid any of the fallacies of earlier decades. Nonetheless, while the housing sector is overheated for some and therefore poses a significant risk, the individual consumer is still striving and aspiring to developed market levels.

To balance our (global) view, we explored KPMG’s US Retail Industry Outlook Survey (2012) to look for evidence that spending on the domestic, eg consumer level, are intact and demonstrate signs of robustness despite the gloom in the global economy. After all, someone has to spend their income for (consumer) goods and thus make the trade to go round; if not the Americans who else we ask. The authors of the report conclude “…retail executives expect the industry to proceed on a path of gradual growth over the next year, supported by continued modest gains in revenue and hiring. Concerns over the US economy are evident, as many executives have pushed back their expectations for a substantial recovery until 2014/2015 or later. While waiting for the recovery to take hold, sector executives are focusing on spending the cash built up on their balance sheets by investing more over the next year in information technology, including data analytics and digital marketing channels.” This makes an OK reading and does not worry us too much as we would expect some level of re-balancing at the individual consumer level. But signs are certainly pointing sideways if not upwards over a medium term view.

PwC - 2012_Retail_Consumer_Products_Asia_Chart16

PwC: 2012 Asia Retail and Consumer Products, Chart 16

The Asian regional consumer behaviour is certainly becoming an ever more important factor as far as the decoupling from the developed world versus developing world is concerned. PwC put out a report entitled 2012 Outlook for the Retail and Consumer Products Sector in Asia and hits the nail on the head. Numbers in China are always big and staggering but these do not change the fact, there are what they are. China’s spending on Food, Beverages and Tobacco will double during period 2011-2015 potentially achieving US$1.4tr in sales. It is thus interesting to note that China has only 2.5 hypermarkets per million people. France, the US, and South Korea have 25, 12.3 and 7.6/ per million respectively. The conclusion is obvious.

In a nutshell, the consumer story in Asia appears to continue to gain traction. Although some believe it is slower than analysts had forecast, it is still a momentum that is gathering pace. And if the classical S-Curve is anything to go by, Asia will soon have a major impact on corporates that serve the regional consumers.

We look at the global conglomerates that can serve the market (Unilever, Kraft, Mars, Procter & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, L’Oreal, Walmart, Carrefour, TESCO, Metro to name but a few), have the capabilities to develop regional if not local strategies, and the capital to have staying power when things get tougher than anticipated. A clear road map is certainly required to take on these markets. Entering them all at the same time, may just a little bit too challenging for most.

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Green Investment Bank – Bob Wigley, Lord Stern to lead Commission

We keenly await further details coming out of the UK’s pre-Budget report on plans of creating a £2bn Green Investment Bank in the UK. The plan is to use £1bn of taxpayers money and marry it with private funding. No doubt, the question is whether this is only a starting point or ‘Is that all’?

A mere £2bn would not make much of a difference; a number of philantrophic investors are putting similiar amounts into the space – single-handedly.

Surely, two things must be addressed for a successful Green Bank (a) a path for the masses to access investments and saving schemes to participate in this growing, and long-ranging industry that is at the brink of becoming *the* growth driver for many economies and (b) the institutional client business unit must encompass an asset management division that sets out significant strategic investment mandates on how to (i) increase the UK’s participation in Alternative Energy (AE) segment and (ii) increase the UK’s position in the world in attracting foreign capital for (UK based) venture firms which are in desperate need for funding. The industry is emerging ‘bottom-up’: full-stop. No doubt, it is risky to invest into a young industry and whereas Europe is talking a lot about what a Renewable Energy and Cleantech (CT) world could be like, the San Francisco bay-area venture community is busy funding businesses that promise the ‘holy grail’ of renewable energy, or near enough.

Contrasting the efforts to China, Germany and the US, the UK must seek to identify this initiative as a root cause event for change with regards to transition a fossil fuel economy into an AE one. The objectives are not simply altruistic: both the Conservatives and Labour must identify an industry that can make good on loosing key industries over the past decade and create a new domestic industry that can absorb and subsume available labour and their respective skills and capabilities. AE is a high-tech industry and missing out on a promising cross-sector industry may be one of the largest strategic mistake any developed nation may make.

A global view on clean growth can be found on the United Nations Trade and Environment website. It published a report comprising of 20 essays how to address the Renewable Energy issues. Under the title “Promoting poles of clean growth to foster  the transition to a more sustainable economy” it brings together thoughts on active ways to engage, both from a private and public sector perspective.

Bob Wigley, Chairman Green Investment Bank Commission (Source: bobwigley.co.uk/)

In the UK, Bob Wigley has been announced as a key banker to steer the Green Investment Bank Commission (pdf). His pedigree should put the plans on strong footing and we are keen to see a swift execution of the proposal. In our view, he can only do good. The business case is simple: “New green technologies represent an important new source of jobs, investment and enterprise in the UK. Over the past decade, the UK has been reliant on housing, the public sector and the financial industries for over 70% of our economic growth. This has to change”. Furthermore Lord Stern, instrumental in assessing the Renewable Energy position and the economics of Climate Change of the UK, agreed to advise the Working group. His comments on the plans can be found on the LSE website but we found that his views are right: “But it will need substantial investment, some of it risky in the early stages as learning takes place and policies become more settled”. The Financial Times reported of delays in the execution of the plans and the final proposition may take some time to crystallize; most certainly nothing is likely to happen prior to the General Elections.

To sum up, we are in full support of the idea of a Green Investment Bank and will keep an eye on the development. Our thoughts are simple and pragmatic: whatever the final idea, if the Government makes a start, private money will follow. We disagree that the ‘cost of learning’ can be described as ‘sunk-costs’. It is an investment into the future of an aging industrial economy and re-inventing and re-education of a nation comes at a price. That price most certainly is higher than £2bn.

Cleantech Group-Deloitte Report 2008

This quite detailed 80-page report has an Investor League Table 2008 that is slightly different from New Energy Finance’s. The Top Investors, measured by rounds of participation are:

1. Khosla Ventures, 21
2. Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, 19
3. Quercus Trust, 16
4. RockPort Capital, 14
5. Draper Fisher Jurvetson, 13
6. Emerald Technology Ventures, 11
7. VantagePoint Venture Partners, 10
8. Chrysalix Energy Venture Capital, 8
PCG Asset Management, 8
Oak Investment Partners, 8
Advanced Technology Ventures, 8
Google, 8
9. Venrock Associates, 7
Foundation Capital, 7
Polaris Venture Partners, 7

The list of investments are in the report. What I like about this report is that it contains tables that track deals in North America, Europe, China and India and table of M&A deal tracking (only for 4Q08). For example, it shows this company:

Company: Silver Spring Networks, Inc. – Provider of two-way IP-based networking communication infrastructures to utilities for advanced metering, distribution automation, and demand response. (comment: a brief description of the company is given)
Country: USA
Region: West Coast
Amount USD: $75,000,000
Stage: Follow-On (comment: it can show first round or seed for other companies)
Sector: Energy Infrastructure
Investors: Foundation Capital, JVB Properties, LLLP, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Northgate Capital (comment: it lists the investors for the company)

A note to take is that Cleantech Group does not yet cover Asia beyond China and India (including Japan, Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, and others), South America (including Brazil, which has significant biofuels activity), or Africa. If there is time, we can look at these missed out countries in order not to miss out any good investment opportunities.

There’s a lot of graphs, tables and analysis in the report that we can look into it. There’s also analysis by geography, for example, India. There’s no table showing a list of top investors in India 2008 but I have to sieve through the section to come up with this ranking:
1. Acumen Fund (4)
2. IDFC Private Equity (3) (it’s the top investor: $201m)
Draper Fisher Jurvetson (3)
3. Nexus India Capital (2)

A brief summary about India: Indian companies raised $456 million in 18 disclosed deals venture capital and private equity rounds during 2008 (amount not disclosed in 1 deal). Investment in the region represented 4% of the global total. Although down by 20% from the previous year, 2008 saw new investors including Kleiner Perkins and Garage Technology Ventures, as well as corporate investors such as Applied Materials, entered the India clean technology market.