Western investors sound alarm on Chinese stocks

Alibaba Group Holding, JD.com and Didi Global are among some of the largest Chinese businesses traded in New York.
Alibaba Group Holding, JD.com and Didi Global are among some of the largest Chinese businesses traded in New York.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (BLOOMBERG) - Western investors are backing away from Chinese companies, blaming politics and uncertainty for a souring stance on the world's second-biggest market.

On Tuesday (Oct 5), representatives of Man Group, Soros Fund Management and Elliott Management raised concerns about the outlook for Chinese stocks traded in New York and in Asia. Their comments came weeks after US$59 billion (S$80 billion) investment firm Marshall Wace said some of those businesses have become "uninvestable".

"We are not putting money into China right now," Ms Dawn Fitzpatrick, chief investment officer at Soros, said at a Bloomberg Invest virtual conference.

Ms Fitzpatrick predicted that many companies listed in the United States would soon relocate to Hong Kong.

While she did not name any firms, Alibaba Group Holding, JD.com and Didi Global are among some of the largest Chinese businesses traded in New York. The three have been under pressure for most of the year as China cracked down on mega-cap tech companies.

Alibaba and JD.com are each down at least 33 per cent since mid-February, while Didi has plunged 47 per cent since its market debut in late June.

The Shanghai Composite Index has increased just 2.7 per cent this year, trailing the 12 per cent gain for the MSCI World Index.

The investor warnings follow Beijing's sweeping anti-monopoly probes against Big Tech, cyber-security reviews for foreign listings and a decision to ban profits in the tuition industry, which have sent shock waves through global financial markets. Investors now worry about what is coming next.

"If you are investing in markets, it's impossible to have no view about China," Man Group chief executive officer Luke Ellis, who runs the world's biggest publicly traded hedge fund firm, said at the Bloomberg conference. He added that the country looks less attractive now than a year ago, amid the crackdown on the tech and education sectors.

Mr Ellis also said that investors need to be more nimble, as holding investments with a 10-year horizon does not make sense in a world where interventions and significant policy changes are expected.

"What China is doing is quite explicit, but it's not that different than what we see in a lot of the Western markets," he said.

Still, some top money managers see long-term potential.

"It will continue to grow faster than the developed markets," Blackstone chief operating officer Jon Gray said at the Bloomberg conference. "They've got a very entrepreneurial culture, they've got a government that wants economic growth to improve quality of lives, and I think that means, broadly speaking, that China should do well."

Mr Jonathan Pollock, co-CEO of activist investor Elliott Investment Management, also suggested that there would be opportunities, though he added that thinking of "big deployments" is difficult.

Meanwhile, Marshall Wace co-founder Paul Marshall told clients in August that it is now more likely that China's listings will be largely confined to the mainland.

"The effect of these various interventions, especially the timing of announcements around the Didi listing in the US, has been to discourage many US-based or international investors," Mr Marshall said. "You could argue that US-listed Chinese American depository receipts are now uninvestable."