BEIJING (BLOOMBERG) - The lockdown that has gripped the original epicenter of the coronavirus for more than two months is finally set to end, spurring investors into action as they gauge which companies will benefit most.
The resumption of movement in and out of Wuhan, scheduled for April 8, may serve as a template for markets the world over that have been affected by restraints on business operations - even if most have been nowhere near as draconian as in central China. Limts on travel outside Hubei for the province's cities aside from Wuhan were lifted on Wednesday (March 25), Xinhua reported.
Early winners have proved to be consumer stocks tied to discretionary spending, such as on sportswear and beer. Automobile manufacturers see a double benefit, with both the liberation of potential buyers and the freeing up of workers who might have been unable to get back to factories since the Lunar New Year holiday.
But a note of caution is also seen: jewelers are among the top performers on Chinese stock exchanges since the announcement on Wuhan travel, which could be a sign of bets on defensive purchases of stores of value amid the continuing global epidemic.
"It's a landmark event that signals the worst of the pandemic is behind us and the economy should start to recover on the back of supportive policies and subsidies," said Zhang Yankun, a fund manager with Beijing Hone Investment Management Co in Beijing. "We had been gradually adding quality consumer stocks earlier, and the latest news just reassures us that the consumption recovery will come sooner."
Among the outperformers in Chinese equities the past two days since the announcement on Wuhan:
Tsingtao Brewery advanced 25 per cent since Monday's close, poised for the company's biggest two-day rally in Hong Kong since 2007.
Wuhan-headquartered Dongfeng Motor Group surged 11 per cent on Tuesday, the most since September 2015, and added another 9.2 per cent on Wednesday.
Sportswear maker Li Ning jumped 18 per cent since Monday, its best two-session gain since June last year.
Eastern Gold Jade, which makes gold bars and jewelry, has soared by the 10 per cent daily limit twice.
"With the Hubei lockdown lifted, the worst for China's economy may have passed," said Victoria Mio, chief investment officer for China at Robeco Hong Kong. "It's a strong signal that life is returning to normal gradually. I am more optimistic on China's economic recovery led by consumption."
China isn't out of the woods yet with regard to the outbreak, as officials try to both consolidate their progress on containing the disease and limit the possibility of another wave, imported from abroad - where the vast majority of new cases are.
"The domestic economic downturn might last longer than we expected given the prospects of a global recession," said Raymond Chen, a portfolio manager at Keywise Capital Management (HK)Ltd. "I don't think it's time to buy on dips yet, and stocks will likely continue to head down after a technical rebound."
Other investors are opting for rotations of their portfolios. Sean Huang, a Taipei-based fund manager with Jih Sun Securities Investment Trust, said he's been moving out of technology companies and into consumption stocks. "Consumer demand will gradually improve with people's lives getting back to normal."
Frank Tsui, senior fund manager at Value Partners Group, is doing the same rotation. He boils it down: "We are betting on a quick China recovery given its huge consumer market."
Investors should still be prepared for bad news, and strategists continue to mark down their price targets, as seen after Anta Sports Products' earnings announcement Tuesday. China's biggest sportswear maker warned it will be a "very difficult year" for the industry and deferred plans for a significant dividend hike.
Still, with stores reopening across China, many analysts see prospects for a recovery. Morgan Stanley's Dustin Wei is among those with an "overweight" rating on Anta. And his description of three phases of the stock's performance over the past two months could potentially be a lens for viewing others:
"Looking through short-term impact"
"Underperforming the index amid sell-off as a popularly owned stock"
"Curbing expectations for 2020/21"
Next up, Wei says: "Strong near-term stock momentum."