It's rare that a consensus forms across a wide cross-section of investors. One market view, however, seems indisputable for bulls and bears alike: China will lead the world in economic growth for the foreseeable future, and its mounting stream of manufactured exports will dominate an ever larger swath of the global marketplace.
The 14-fold expansion in China's economy over the past three decades has been nothing short of astonishing. In 2009, China will mark 15 straight years of economic growth, and consensus forecasts call for that streak to keep going in the years ahead. In 1994, China's gross domestic product (GDP) was $559 billion, about the size of Canada's and one quarter the size of Germany's, according to data from the International Monetary Fund. By 2007, China's GDP was double that of Canada and surpassed Germany to become the world's third largest. IMF forecasts indicate China's GDP will outstrip Japan's in 2010, making it the world's second largest behind the United States.
Even aside from China's growth potential, many investors putting money in China expect to benefit from the future appreciation of China's currency, the yuan, against the U.S. dollar.
The ETF Options
Investors interested in China have a number of ETF options available, and more are arriving every day. There are at least eight ETFs focused on China specifically, including those targeting large-cap and small-cap styles, as well as sector ETFs targeting China's real estate, industrial, and consumer sector stocks.
With about $10 billion in assets, the iShare's FTSE/Xinhua China 25 Index Fund (FXI) is the clear asset leader among China country funds and almost 20 times the size of its largest rival. This ETF holds a select group of large-cap stocks that are benchmarks for their sectors--similar to the Dow Jones Industrial Average. It is the oldest China ETF, opening for business in October 2004. Since then it has posted an annual average total return of almost 20%.
Another popular ETF holding mainly large-cap China stocks is PowerShares' Gold Dragon Halter USX China Portfolio (PGJ), which has $476 million in assets. This ETF owns 139 Chinese companies that have shares listed on a U.S. exchange and therefore are regulated by the SEC, which may reassure those worried about lax reporting requirements in China. Unlike FXI and other China ETFs that are heavily weighted to the financial sector, the fund's top sector weighting is energy, at 22%, followed by information technology with 20%.
Those seeking exposure to China's small-cap universe may be interested in Claymore's AlphaShares China Small Cap Index ETF (HAO), which has $291 million invested in companies with market caps of less than $1.5 billion. It opened in January 2008 and has a -2.0% average annual return since then. About 23% of the fund is invested in the industrials sector, and 19% in information technology.
Until recently, there was only one sector ETF for China, Claymore's AlphaShares China Real Estate ETF (TAO), which opened in December 2007 and has $81 million in assets. It has 39 holdings and has lost 12% (average annualized) since inception.
In December, New York-based Global X Management launched two new funds, the China Consumer ETF (CHIQ) and the China Industrials ETF (CHII).
S&P Senior Financial Writer Vaughan Scully can be reached at email@example.com. Send him your ideas for ETF story topics.