US automakers, fund managers looking past China’s devaluation

August 13, 2015 | By | Reply More

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For many US companies and investors, the volatility in world markets this week, following Beijing’s surprise currency devaluation, presents the challenge of balancing the country’s current uncertain economic prospects against the hope for long term growth from the world’s most populous nation.

China this week devalued its currency against the US dollar, after more data showed its economic growth is slowing.

Investors globally reacted harshly, dumping shares of companies with significant amounts of revenue derived from China, particularly automakers and luxury goods makers.

For the most part though, US manufacturers and the fund managers investing in them say they are looking beyond short-term investor anxiety to long-term demand.

“Longer term, we’re still very bullish on China,” Hau Thai-tang, head of global purchasing at Ford Motor Co, told investors at a conference Wednesday.

Ford had already lowered it’s expected sales to China ahead of more recent evidence of slowing economic growth, he said.

If there is a “prolonged period of recession” in China, the company will make moves to balance supply with demand, he said, adding, “we don’t see anything like that at this point.”

General Motors Co told investors this week that it still expects strong results from China, the company’s largest market by vehicle sales, and that it did not expect the yuan’s devaluation to have a material impact on its financial results.

GM builds in China most of the cars it sells in the country, creating what automakers call a “natural hedge” against currency volatility.

Executives at the automaker said last month they see China’s auto sales growing over the next decade to about 35 million vehicles a year, compared to about 20 million annually now.

Shareholders, however, have taken a sharply different view, selling shares since Monday. GM shares are down about 5.0 percent since Monday, and are now nearly 9.0 percent below an important benchmark, their $33-a-share initial public offering price. Ford shares are down about 3.0 percent since Monday.

Standing by their bets

Despite falling stock prices, fund managers contacted by Reuters who had large positions in US companies dependent on China for revenue growth said that, while they were not cutting ties yet, they remain wary.

“I’m still a bull. I think long-term we’ll see a lot more stimulus, building bridges and infrastructure to build demand like they did in the past,” said Gary Black, co portfolio manager of the Calamos Hedged Equity fund.

However, Black, whose company owns 13 of the 20 large-capitalization companies Goldman Sachs identified as the most dependent on China for revenue, added that he is also looking to add technology and media firms such as Google that do not have exposure in China.

The group Goldman identified as most reliant on China includes Micron Technology, Applied Materials, and Mead Johnson Nutrition.

The currency devaluation would have little impact on Yum! Brands, said Christopher Niemczewski, managing principal at Marshfield Associates, a Washington, DC firm with $2 billion under management that holds about 900,000 shares of the fast food restaurant company.

“If China just goes through a downturn and comes back, I don’t see how that affects Yum’s competitive position. If things get messy in China, you could just set up more stores because its cheaper,” he said.

Gerry Frigon, president and chief investment officer for Taylor Frigon Capital Management in San Luis Obispo, California, which manages $175 million, said that he has not sold any of his holdings of China-dependent companies such as Yum Brands based on the devaluation of China’s currency.

“We view these kinds of issues as kind of short-term blips along the way to a transformation to a consumer society that is not going to stop,” Frigon said.

Chris Carter, portfolio manager of the $442 million Buffalo Growth Fund, meanwhile, said he has sold some auto parts suppliers that do a lot of business in China, though he declined to name them.

By contrast, US auto parts makers could benefit from a cheaper yuan to the extent that they export components from China to customers in the US or Europe, but it could also make vehicle parts made by Chinese rivals more competitive.

Johnson Controls Inc, which is in the process of spinning off its automobile components businesses, plans to “closely monitor these currency movements and related China growth projections,” company spokesperson Fraser Engerman told Reuters. However, he said, the devaluation “has no impact on our commitment to grow our business in China both long-term and short-term.”

Still, JCI shares are down about 5.0 percent since Monday.

Semiconductor maker Skyworks Solutions, which Goldman Sachs estimates receives 83 percent of its revenue from China, has seen its stock fall about 20 percent since June.

Yet Robert Crosby, portfolio manager of the $6.3 billion Victory Munder Mid-Cap Core Growth Fund, said he would be more inclined to add to his holdings of the stock than sell it.

“I think the sell-off is almost a gift-wrapped opportunity,” he said.


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