Over the last few months, I’ve been bothered by what’s happening to Jack Ma, the co-founder of the Chinese version of Amazon, Alibaba, and Ant Financial, the massive digital payments company that boasts the largest money-market fund in the world.
I genuinely don’t understand how a Communist country has billionaires, but Jack Ma’s fortune is estimated to be almost $50 billion.
Last October, Ma gave a speech that criticized Chinese regulators and state-owned banks and said that the government should extend credit to the poor to help spur the economy.
Since then, Ma’s fortunes have turned. Chinese regulators cracked down on Alibaba, and the stock has fallen more than one-third while the overall emerging markets index rose by more than 20 percent.
Ant Financial, which was scheduled to go public at a valuation greater than that of JP Morgan, was abruptly canceled.
And worst of all, Ma went missing for a few months. He has since reappeared, but the message was clear: think twice about criticizing the Chinese government.
And this story is my tribute to America’s greatness, where CEOs and everyone else can say pretty much what they want. I may not like what people are saying, but I can change where I shop, write a letter of protest, and not have to worry about me or anyone else going missing.
Of course – none of that means that I don’t want to invest in Chinese or other emerging markets stocks. In fact, it’s just the opposite – the political risk in emerging markets probably explains their relatively high returns.
The chart above (in red, white, and blue for no reason other than it was the Fourth!), shows that returns for emerging markets returns have been higher than the US returns. Depending on the data that you use, you don’t always see that, but the returns are comparable.
The returns for developed international stocks were about the same as the US until the 2008 financial crisis, but US stocks have taken off while the developed international stocks haven’t done much (you could say that I made that column white to show that there was nothing there…)
That could change again, which is why we still own developed and emerging markets stocks. The US accounts for about half of the world market returns, but we overweight the US so that three-quarters of the portfolio is held in the US. That’s been a good move for us, even though the non-US markets have been a drag.
Still, we believe in global diversification and valuations overseas are more attractive than they are here. Who knows when investors will begin to take notice since that’s been true for years now, but with our dedicated allocation, we’ll be there when it happens.
I hope that everyone enjoyed the fireworks and freedom here in the USA!