UBS tells rich clients to buy China stocks affected by virus

LONDON: The spreading coronavirus epidemic is spooking investors out of equities but UBS Global Wealth Management is advising its high net-worth clients to use this as an opportunity to load up on Chinese shares.

“We think investors should be buying the dip in emerging-market stocks and specifically Chinese stocks,” Maximilian Kunkel, chief investment officer for Germany at the Swiss wealth management firm, said in a phone interview.

“You have a more attractive valuation and growth mix here and also China seems to be containing the virus and getting back to business.”

Equities around the world slumped this week as Italy, Iran, South Korea and Brazil confirmed new infections while the US warned Americans to prepare for a potential coronavirus outbreak at home.

At the same time, the World Health Organization said China’s unprecedented lockdown and restrictions blunted the epidemic’s spread and led to a decline in new cases.

Amid virus woes, Chinese equities have been trading below historical highs
Chinese equities have had a volatile start to 2020.

The Shanghai Composite Index plunged after the reopening of the market following the Lunar New Year. It rebounded by as much as 11% from a low in February before trimming its gains this week.

The rally was partly fueled by expectations that Beijing’s monetary easing and fiscal support measures would help companies weather economic headwinds.

China’s stocks look particularly attractive compared to the euro-area ones, said UBS’s Kunkel, because of Europe’s muted economic and earnings growth outlooks.

The European benchmark Stoxx 600 traded at a record high just last week before falling the most since 2016 this week as the number of coronavirus cases surged in Italy and Spanish authorities sealed off a Canary Island hotel.

“We would caution investors against buying into the dip in the euro zone until there’s more certainty and until we reach a peak in the daily number of new infections,” said Kunkel.

While businesses in China are restarting and the official data show the rise in infections slowing, the virus is not yet overcome.

Five of the eight economic indicators tracked by Bloomberg dropped in February from January, with two gauges of business confidence plunging to the lowest on record.

The Shanghai Composite fell for the third day on Wednesday, set for a 1.7% drop this week. But unlike European and US equities, the Chinese benchmark wasn’t even close to a historic high this year.

The Shanghai equity index trades at about 11 times estimated earnings, compared to about 14 for the Stoxx 600 and 18 times for the S&P 500.

Chinese stocks cheaper than US, European markets

The S&P 500 Index bounced back on Wednesday following four days of losses and the Cboe Volatility Index came down from a December 2018 high.

Kunkel says all eyes will now be on the resilience of the US economy and extent of the virus’s damage.

“The starting point is good but if we see the pandemic spreading in the US and that negatively impacts consumer spending and confidence, that’ll clearly be negative for the US and won’t bode well for international markets,” he said.