It was less obvious today when there were other splashes of green among global stocks.
But on Monday and Tuesday, the trend was readily apparent since so few stocks moved up on those days and so much of the market was colored a bright red.
Oddly enough some China stocks were in the green on both days. And I think there’s a pattern here that deserves some thought.
Yesterday, for example, Luckin Coffee (LK), China’s largest domestic coffee chain, closed up 3.59%. Meituan Dianping (MPNGF), which owns one of China’s two big food delivery services, finished 1.83% ahead.
Today, same pattern. Luckin Coffee gained 2.58% and Meituan Dianping was higher by 0.70%.
And this was happening on days when big China stocks like China Southern Airlines (ZNH) were down strongly with China Southern’s ADRS down 1.66% on Tuesday and 0.15% today.
So what’s going on?
My theory is that investors in and out of China are thinking that maybe the worst of the coronavirus outbreak in China is over. The Chinese economy, to this way of thinking, is edging back towards normal. And with that purely domestic Chinese companies, those with no exposure to the course of the disease outside China, have seen revenue bottoms and may be good to buy again. Especially in the case of what were big momentum plays before the coronavirus outbreak–such as Luckin Coffee and Meituan Dianping.
On the other hand, Chinese companies with big exposure to a global economy that is still suffering new bad news about the coronavirus everyday–such as China Southern Airlines–aren’t good buying candidates since they haven’t yet seem the bottom on revenue.
I can see two big uncertainties that could derail a rally in domestic Chinese stocks like the one that I think has started to emerge in the last few days. First, there is the very real possibility that the coronavirus outbreak isn’t really under control in China. There is the possibility of new centers of infection developing as some workers are rushed back to their jobs as Beijing puts pressure on local leaders to support the economy. That means we could get an unsettling bump in new infections in China sometime in the next two weeks. Second, even a recovering Chinese economy could still mean lower than expected sales for companies like Lukin Coffee and Meituan Dianping. Many workers have been paid less–or not at all–during the height of the quarantine and that means less money to spend on coffee and food deliveries.
Given these uncertainties and the difficulty of figuring out the debt and cash flow picture at Chinese companies in general (and the particular difficulties with Lukin Coffee and Meituan Dianping), I’d like a bigger drop and a larger discount before buying into this rally. Or I’d like more certainty that the coronavirus outbreak in China is indeed under control.