On one hand, the Chinese stock market is bouncing back . . . in part on news that Beijing is willing to open up local corporate accounting to a little of the scrutiny U.S. regulators demand.
But we’re a long way from long-term clarity. At this stage, the odds are pretty high that huge stocks like Baidu (BIDU) and Alibaba (BABA) will be forced off Wall Street in the next two years.
And in the meantime, there isn’t a lot of incentive in focusing on Taiwanese stocks instead. While the economic footprint is similar on both sides of the strait, the geopolitical risks are comparable as well.
For some investors, the threat of an invasion is simply too real to discount even when you’re looking at major chip makers like Taiwan Semi (TSM) and United Micro (USM) . . . from the devastation we’ve seen in Ukraine, these stocks still look a little vulnerable.
But there’s another center of the global electronics industry that isn’t quite so exposed to either cross-border tensions or regulatory questions. It’s one of the most advanced economies in the world.
Naturally I’m talking about South Korea. If you’re looking for chips, just buy EWY or one of other the ETFs that invests in the entire Korean market . . . they’re going to be overweight Samsung, which only trades here in over-the-counter lots.
EWY has a full $860 million invested in Samsung, more than 20% of its overall net asset value. Add in other holdings like Hynix, LG and the chip-driven car makers and you’re essentially buying an industrial technology fund here with a slice of consumer exposure around the edges.
But I have to admit the tech manufacturers haven’t been much of a prize lately. LG (LPL), one of the few that trades on Wall Street, is down a dismal 26% YTD . . . suffering in tandem with its U.S. counterparts.
Ironically, it’s that consumer slice that has kept EWY from the worst of the negativity that has already dragged the NASDAQ down so far. Korea’s banks and telecom companies are thriving, and U.S. investors can buy many of them directly.
Shinhan (SHG) and KB Financial (KB) are even up YTD, defying the broad market trend as well as the losses we’ve seen in U.S. banks. And Woori (WF) is soaring.
They all pay significant dividends. If I were building out exposure to the domestic Korean market, I’d start with WF and KB. SHG just doesn’t have much in the way of yield or growth profile to recommend right now.
Likewise, on the telecom side, investors prefer KT (KT), the former Korea Telecom, for a better growth outlook than larger rival SK Telecom (SKG). While SKG pays a larger yield now, I don’t have a lot of confidence in that dividend staying high in years to come.
Think of AT&T (T) versus Verizon (VZ) here at home. T theoretically pays shareholders more money every three months, but it’s an open question when that distribution will need to shrink as management focuses on getting the balance sheet under control.
VZ is smaller but more sustainable. When you’re investing in yield stocks, that’s often the better way to go.
If you’re looking overseas but nervous about risk, yield is the place to be. Otherwise, you’re wandering into speculative territory . . . and the risks get extremely high, extremely fast.
Start gradually. Seoul stocks are unlikely to suffer any unique shocks in the immediate future.