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Should Income Investors Include China?

By Martin Hutchinson on December 23, 2015

The International Monetary Fund has included the Chinese renminbi in the Special Drawing Right, with a weighting that’s the third largest after the dollar and the euro, but ahead of the yen and sterling. A PriceWaterhouseCoopers projection, which is quite conservative about future growth rates, puts China’s 2050 GDP at $62 trillion compared with the U.S. $41 trillion.

These trends can always reverse, but even for conservative U.S. income investors, it’s best to have some money invested where the tide is flowing in. Fortunately, there are some sound opportunities to do so.

China’s stock market suffered a major hiccup during the summer, reflecting analysts’ belief that the country’s rapid growth was finally slowing. There is no question that much of the real estate and other investment incurred by China during the “stimulus” of 2008 to 2010, which was intended to fight the global recession, was poorly considered and needs to be written off, causing massive bad debts in the banking system.

 However China’s state debt is small and its international reserves over $3 trillion, so even a full write-off of those assets will cause only a temporary hiccup. In the long-term, China is well enough managed and its people hard-working and educated enough that the country’s continuing growth much be assured.

Income investors venturing abroad must always worry about the local withholding tax regime. Fortunately, China’s is relatively favorable, with a withholding tax of only 10%, lower than many other countries. This means that it can even be efficient for U.S. dividend investors to invest in China from tax-free accounts (which cannot reclaim Chinese withholding tax) although investing in taxable accounts and deducting the tax from U.S. taxes payable under the China/U.S. double tax treaty is always the most efficient approach when possible.

For many individual investors, the best way into Chinese income stocks is through a fund. The Matthews China Dividend Fund (MCDFX), part of the Asia specialist Matthews group, is a $181 million open end mutual fund with a somewhat high expense ratio of 1.19% but no front-end load. The fund yields 3.3% and has returned an average 9% annually since its inception in 2009 compared with 1.9% on the MSCI China Index. At the very least, the U.S. income investor should have a modest holding in this or another similar fund or ETF.


If your taste is for individual stocks—and the more risk that comes with them—I have two suggestions. China Mobile Limited (NYSE: CHL) just beats MCDFX, with a yield of 3.4%, based on two semi-annual dividends in April and October. China Mobile is the world’s largest mobile telecom service in terms of subscribers, with an astounding 824 million at the end of October 2015. During the first10 months of 2015 the company added 176 million 4G subscribers, bringing total 4G subscribers to 267 million. During this period it recorded a 6.5% increase in revenue and 3.5% increase in net profit. It currently trades on 13.7 times historic earnings and 12.4 times 4-traders’ estimate of 2016 earnings.

Huaneng Power International Inc. (NYSE: HNP) is a Beijing-based electric power company, selling power to regional authorities in China and Singapore, generating power from coal, wind, gas, oil and hydro resources with controlled generating capacity of 81,132 megawatts. Huaneng’s revenue for the first 9 months of 2015 decreased 8% but its net profit increased 16%. The company trades on 9.1 times 4-traders’ estimate of 2016 earnings and has a dividend yield of 6.9%, based on quarterly dividends of $0.565, the next due to go ex-dividend in February.

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Obscure Tax Law Forces This Company to Pay Out 90% of its Profits

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