In my Money Week column this week, I've been looking at how the rise of China as the world's largest stock market will change investment. Here's a taster....
Any serious investor will already be comfortable with the emerging markets. They know the BRICs - Brazil, Russia, India and China - are doing a lot better than the traditional developed economies. They probably have some money in a fund specialising in those stocks. They might even have dipped into what the investment industry calls the frontier markets – places such as Pakistan, Tunisia, or Vietnam.
But over the next twenty years, the amount of attention they will need to pay to them is going to vastly increase. The emerging markets are going to stop emerging. They are going to turn into the establishment.
The mood of the global markets used to be set in London or New York. Over the next two decades, it will increasingly be set in Shanghai, Moscow on San Paulo. That is going to change the way the markets operate, the signals that suggest you should buy and sell, and the way that investors get rewarded. It will make investing a lot more scary, and the markets will be a lot a more volatile. But you need to get on the right side of that trend, or end up getting badly burned.
Last week, Goldman Sachs published a set of long-range forecasts for global stock market capitalisations. It predicted that by 2030, the value of emerging market
stocks would rise more than fivefold to $80 trillion. Their share of world equity capitalization would, the bank forecast, rise to 55% from 31% today. China will be the world’s largest market. Its total value, Goldman predicts, will increase to $41 trillion by 2030 from just $5 trillion today. It projects that the US market will be worth $34 trillion by then, making China easily the worlds biggest.
That will be a big change. Right now, the US stockmarket still accounts for almost 30% of global market capitalisation. China is just 7.2%, only a little ahead of the UK at 6.6%. Brazil accounts for only 2.8% of the world markets, just slightly more than Switzerland (although there are 205 million people in Brazil, compared to 7.6 million in Switzerland).
There is nothing very controversial about that. The emerging market economies are growing at a far healthier rate than either the US or Europe. The International Monetary Fund predicts the emerging economies will grow at 6.4% next year, compared with 2.4% for the developed world. They keep on growing at double or triple our rate every year. Nor is there any reason to expect that to slow down. The demographics of the developing world are in far better shape. So are government finances. And they still have a lot of catching up to do to match living standards in the West. It’s hardly a surprise that their stockmarket will overtake ours. A hundred years ago, New York surpassed London in importance. Fairly soon, Shanghai will overtake New York.
The interesting question is how that will impact on the way the markets work.
We are used to a world where the dominant investment themes and ideas are set mostly in New York, and partly in London. The Dow Jones index might just be thirty companies. Its rather strange composition might well mean that it isn’t even a very accurate reflection of the American economy, never mind what was happening in the rest of the world. As a general rule, however, if you knew what was happening to the Dow, you’d have a pretty good idea where the rest of the world’s markets were heading. Likewise, the FTSE is an oddball mix of companies, largely dominated by oil and mining companies, plus a big bank and drugs company. It doesn’t tell you much about the British economy. But if mining stocks are all the rage in London, you can be certain they will soon be just as popular in the rest of the world as well.
The themes in New York and London dominate the global markets everywhere. If dividends are in fashion in the U, they will be growing in importance globally. If stock buy-backs are a more popular way of rewarding investors in London, that will be replicated around the world.
Expect all that to change in the next twenty years. What will count is the mood in Shanghai, Moscow or San Paulo. The one number you really want to know won’t be the Dow: it will be the change in the Shanghai Composite. It will be the way those markets are developing, the way that money is flowing through them, and the demands that investors are making, which will set the tone for the global markets. European and American markets will take their cue from the emerging market, not the other way around.
That may well turn out to be scary for investors. It’s dated to portray the Shanghai index as an old-fashioned gangster market, with some mysterious Mr Chan sitting in a dark basement dictating whether it rises of falls with a click of his fingers. But it operates to very different rules to the stock markets of the West. It is heavily manipulated by the government. It has no clear and transparent rules governing what firms can be listed, and what they need to disclose to investors. It is not fully open to foreign investors. And the Chinese, who make up the bulk of investors, are inveterate gamblers, who have always thought stock markets should be casinos without the neon lights and cocktail bars rather than places where you try and seriously analyse a company’s likely future earnings. The critics who point out the New York and London market promote a casino culture, treating stocks like gambling chips, haven’t seen anything yet.
The stock market right now is volatile, short-termist and self-interested. But as it comes to be dominated by Shanghai and Moscow it is going to get a lot more so. The market will be dominated by the state, because that is the way that business works in China and Russia. It won’t be very interested in small investors, because they don’t count for very much in any of those markets. Nor are the standards of honesty likely to be the same.
There is no point complaining about that, however. It is where the money will be. The rules of investment are about to change, and investors need to make sure they understand that. Because one thing is always true: if you don’t understand the rules, then you haven’t much chance of winning the game.