Watching China bulls like Ray Dalio compare their favorite country’s economic outlook to conditions here in the United States can be amusing, but there’s a fatal flaw in their argument.
They’ve heavily invested in Chinese companies that trade in China. Their counterparts that trade on Wall Street are having a harder and harder time maintaining credibility.
For years, these companies played fast and loose with disclosure requirements, making it difficult for U.S. investors to get a clear sense of exactly how robust their underlying businesses are.
When relations were good and greed ran both sides of the Pacific Rim, that was all right. But now, after a fractious trade war, patience for stretched fundamentals is at a low.
And the regulators are starting to talk about forcing real compliance from Chinese companies. If they can’t (or won’t) come up with numbers that compare to what we see from other stocks, they could get their Wall Street listings pulled.
We’ve seen from Russian stocks the nightmare that becomes. If you can’t get your money out when you want it, you’re no longer an owner. You’re a prisoner of corporate policy, pleading with management to cash you out.
I’ve seen that story play out over and over. It’s ugly. Shareholders tend to get out with only a fraction of what they own on paper . . . and often consider themselves lucky even to get that.
There’s a reason the NASDAQ index that tracks Chinese companies traded in the United States is down a harrowing 70% in the past year. Nobody wants to get stuck with shares if and when the curtain goes down.
I’ve been extremely cautious about China in recent years because I know that unlike Dalio and his cronies, you can’t take a jet to Shanghai and trade on that market. You depend on U.S. listings for direct exposure to that economy.
When the wheels come off the Chinese real estate market or any other segment of that economy, you’d be stuck with what’s available on Wall Street. They might be good companies or bad ones . . . if you can’t trade them, it’s all hypothetical.
Funny story here: I was doing some work in my media archives recently and found an interview I did from 2014, right after Alibaba (BABA) went public. As you know, it’s a big company, “the Amazon of Asia,” weighing in at $235 billion at the moment.
Everyone else on the show was eager to sing the company’s praises. Eight years later, founder Jack Ma has become a controversial figure in China and here in the United States the stock is down 7% from its starting price.
People who bought BABA and held on for the long haul haven’t just lagged the global market. They’ve lost money and eight years of their lives.
And I have a feeling there’s worse to come. China can create great companies. Ray Dalio can sing their praises as they make him rich.
But unless U.S. investors can get reliable and transparent access to those companies, count me out. We can find better opportunities here at home.