I joined David Asman on After the Bell today to talk about investing in China and Russia—two countries that have most investor running for cover.
Chinese stocks—as measured by the iShares China Large Cap ETF (FXI)—are trading at roughly half their 2007 highs. Russian stocks—as measured by the Market Vectors Russia ETF (RSX)—have been trending down since 2011 and are currently down nearly 60% from their 2008 highs.
China’s economy is slowing, but at 7.4% its growth rate is still one of the highest in the world. What has spooked the market is not China’s slowing growth but the fear that its overbuilt property markets are about to take a major slide and take down the Chinese financial system with them.
We’ve seen this movie before: The bursting of the housing bubble led to the wholesale destruction of the U.S. banking sector and caused the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.
So, are the fears legitimate? By Financial Times estimates, fully 23% of the Chinese economy is taken by the building, sale, and outfitting of new apartments. Real estate sales were down 7.8% in the first quarter, and property prices rose in just 44 of 70 major Chinese cities last month. If China’s property market really is on the verge of imploding, that 7.4% growth rate could turn into mammoth shrinkage in a hurry.
But remember, China’s housing issues have been known for years, and some of the slowdown is due to the Chinese government’s effects to dampen speculation. And after years of declines, China’s stocks are some of the cheapest in the world.
If—just if—the world doesn’t end, Chinese stocks are an incredible bargain at current prices.
And what about Russia?
After Greece, Russia is the cheapest market in the world with a cyclically-adjusted price earnings ratio (“CAPE”) of just 6.
Now, in fairness, Russian stocks are always cheap. The median CAPE over the history of the Russian market is just 9. This reflects Russia’s political risk as well as the fact that its market is dominated by state-controlled energy companies. Still, Russia is dirt cheap today even by its own standards, which is enough to get my attention.
Investors are scared to death of Russia right now due to the Ukrainian standoff. But I would view this as one of those proverbial “blood in the streets” moments where we should be buying with both fists.
Though it seems like there is no end in sight, Russian President Vladimir Putin has virtually everything he wants. Crimea is his. And in his virtual partition of Ukraine, he has ensured that Russia has a buffer zone between itself and the West. At this point, he can effectively deescalate and come away a winner.
And those Western sanctions? Frankly, they were mostly toothless, and in any event they will probably be quietly dropped within a year. Europe is not in a position to challenge Russia given their dependence on Russian gas and the attractiveness of Russia as an export market.
And about that Russian gas… Putin is currently in China working to negotiate a $400 billion gas export deal with China. China has been conspicuously quiet throughout the Ukrainian crisis, and while China will probably never replace Europe as an energy importer, new demand from a Chinese energy deal should mean a jump in profits at Gazprom (OGZPY) and the rest of the Russian energy sector.