China’s strict zero-COVID policies will backfire in the near term and cause some serious pain for investors in that country, according to veteran money manager Mark Mobius.
Rare public protests against COVID lockdowns swelled across China last week after an apartment fire in the capital of Xinjiang province, Ürümqi, killed 10, and workers at the world’s largest iPhone factory in Zhengzhou clashed with authorities over poor working conditions.
But even as protests against China’s COVID policies rage across the country, Mobius warns that government officials are unlikely to change their stance anytime soon.
“It’s clear to me that Xi cannot tolerate any protests, so there will be a very tough crackdown on any protestors. More people will be arrested and they will probably go further in terms of population control in many areas,” the emerging markets specialist and the founder of Mobius Capital Partners told Bloomberg.
That’s bad news for Chinese stocks, which have already been under pressure this year, with the Hang Seng Index and Shanghai Composite Index falling 25% and 15%, respectively, year to date.
“If you have that kind of scenario you have to consider that the market will not do that well in the short term,” Mobius said, arguing that Chinese indices could fall another 10%.
Still, Mobius went on to make the case that “people’s memories are very short” and that, at some point, there will be a recovery in Chinese stocks that look “very cheap” as investors seek value.
“You’ll see some recovery,” he said. “But right now, I think hoping for a change in attitude on the part of the central government is not in the cards.”
Mobius isn’t the only investor sounding the alarm about China’s latest COVID protests.
Mark Haefele, UBS Wealth Management’s chief investment officer, said in a Monday note that the protests and rising COVID cases in China represent a “setback” for the country.
“With a relaxation of the zero-COVID policy still some time away, we see continued near-term headwinds for the Chinese recovery,” he wrote.
And Citi strategists echoed Haefele’s comments in their own note to start the week, saying that the latest protests amount to a “setback of sentiment” for investors in China.
“The path to reopening is likely to be noisy with local infections at risk of remaining high in winter months and until vaccination rates rise more meaningfully,” they wrote.
On top of the latest protests and COVID lockdowns, Mobius warned, any investor in China has to accept the growing risk of war.
“The problem that I have is…what happens if China decides to attack Taiwan?” he said. “Because if you have that kind of scenario, it’s going to be like Russia—all of the investments in China will be lost.”
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