Two Ways to Play the Global Power Shift

02/25/2009 1:00 pm EST


Yiannis Mostrous

Editor, The Capitalist Times

Yiannis G. Mostrous, associate editor of Personal Finance, says the financial crisis will speed a shift of economic power towards Asia, and he recommends two stocks to play it.

The current crisis will lead to profound changes in the global financial system. The biggest change, however, will occur in people’s individual attitudes. Societies in developed economies will begin to save more, while people in developing nations will begin to spend, nurturing domestic demand economies.

Don’t expect the US consumer to come back with a vengeance any time soon. On the other hand, the Asian economies, led by China and India, should move even closer to their ultimate economic goal: domestic demand-led economies. The development of a growing middle class will be the real game-changer.

Retail sales growth in China, a proxy for consumption, rose 21.6% last year; that figure has slowed to “only” 19%.

This scenario will signal a decoupling from its foreign demand-based past and signifies that economic leadership is shifting from west to east.

China Life Insurance Company (NYSE: LFC) is China’s largest life insurer in terms of premiums and geographic business reach. It has a policy base of more than 250 million people.

Although the stock has been hit hard, the company offers quality in turbulent times. The long-term growth potential is substantial; insurance penetration in China is very low. Also, the company has good exposure to rural areas that are rapidly becoming the next frontier for Chinese growth. The government has made rural growth one of the pillars of its economic strategy.

Last year wasn’t very good for the company. It experienced a significant decrease in return from its equity investments and greater claims expenses due to natural disasters. Nevertheless, the company has a clean balance sheet and a strong capital position (300% solvency coverage), which makes it a good investment, especially at current prices.

According to industry sources, insurance policy sales and growth in China remain relatively resilient, which, coupled with the company’s pricing power, will allow it to navigate rough waters. China Life Insurance Company is a buy under 50. (Its ADRs closed below $45 Tuesday—Editor.)

China Mobile (NYSE: CHL) is one of the largest mobile service providers in the world, boasting a subscriber base of more than 300 million. It operates mobile telecommunication services in 31 provinces and municipalities in China.

China’s potential in mobile telecommunications is huge: The nationwide penetration rate is around 40% percent and growing rapidly. In rural areas, the penetration rate is around

19%—this will be the company’s next growth driver.

In today’s market environment, China Mobile’s high earnings visibility and skilled management are unique and highly attractive qualities. After the current selloff, valuations also have become more reasonable. Buy China Mobile under $60. (Its ADRs closed around $46 Tuesday—Editor.)

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