China: The World’s Best Risk Adjusted Investment Opportunity

Seoul, Korea. At the Harvard Project for Asia and International Relations’ annual conference, I gave a talk today titled “China, The World’s Best Risk-Adjusted Investment Opportunity”. A copy of the PPT can be downloaded by clicking here. 

The slides are mainly just talking points, rather than fully fleshed-out contents. The idea was to work backwards from the conclusion, as propounded in the title, to the reasons why. My argument is that a confluence of factors are at work here, to create this agreeable situation where investing in Chinese private companies offers the highest returns relative to risk.

Those factors are:

  1. China’s current stage of six-pronged development (Slide 2)  
  2. A large group of talented entrepreneurs tested and tempered by the difficulties of starting and managing a private business in China (Slide 5)
  3. Plentiful equity capital (from private equity and venture capital firms) with clearly-articulated investment criteria (Slide 6)
  4. An investment strategy that offers multiple ways for capital to impact positively the performance of a private company,  lowering the already-minimal risk an investment will tank (Slide 7)
  5. The returns calculus (Slide 8 ) – the formula here is profits (in USD millions) multiplied by a p/e multiple, producing enterprise valuation. The first equation is an example of investor entry price, pre-IPO, and the second is investor exit price, after a round PE investment and an IPO. The gain is twenty-fold.  Thus do nickels turn into dollars
  6. Downsides – best risk-adjusted returns does not mean risk-free returns. Here are some of the ways that a pre-IPO investment can go bad (Slide 9

Since the audience in Seoul was largely non-Chinese, I also included two slides with the same map of China, illustrating the progression of economic development in China, from a few favored areas on China’s eastern seaboard during the early phases, to the current situation where economic growth, and entrepreneurial talent, is far more broadly-spread across the country.

As a proxy to illustrate this diffusion of economic dynamism across China, slide 4 shows, in gold, the areas of China where CFC has added clients and projects in the last 18 months. Slide 3 shows the original nucleus of economic success in China – Guangdong, Fujian, Zhejiang, Shanghai, Jiangsu and Beijing. We also have clients in these places. 

On seeing Slide 4, I realized it also displays my travel patterns over the last year.  I’ve been everywhere in red or gold, except Gansu, but adding in Yunnan, during that time. That’s a big bite out of a big country. This trip to Korea is my first flight outside China in two years, excepting a couple of short trips back to the US to see family. 

In the next two weeks, after returning from Korea, I’ll make three separate trips, to Henan, Jiangsu and Beijing, to visit existing clients and meet several potential new ones. While Chinese private SME provide the best risk-adjusted investment returns anywhere, you can’t do much from behind a desk. Opportunity is both widespread and widely-spread.

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