Can the Far East Drive American Markets Forward?

The Dow crashed 1.4 points yesterday, wiping out Monday’s 1.3 point moonshot. Desperate for something beyond these 0.014% “swings,” the market’s putting China in the driver’s seat today… and these guys still have quite a lead foot:

Chinese auto sales soared 34% in May, year over year. According to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers, the Red Nation scooped up 1.12 million vehicles last month, outpacing any nation in the world. Consider the course of the last 12 months, and then look at this chart… is China even part of the global slowdown?

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We don’t want to get too excited about this growth, as much of these sales are a product of Chinese government stimulus. But I.O.U.S.A. is certainly throwing a bunch of money at this crisis as well, and the same measure of auto sales here fell 34% in May… so they must be doing something right over in Beijing.

Chinese property sales rose 45% in the first five months of 2009 compared to the same period in 2008, their National Bureau of Statistics announced today. Heh, notice a trend?

Again, these numbers are manipulated by government intervention… but 45%? That’s pretty big. We also note that real estate investment over the same period rose 6.8%, a rise the U.S. certainly can’t claim.

Thus, the market story today is “buy whatever China wants.” Namely, commodities. Oil’s up to $71, a 2009 high. Copper is at an eight-month high of $2.36 a pound. Aluminum, lead, zinc and nickel are all in the same boat.

Stocks like Alcoa and Exxon Mobil helped the Dow to open up 1%.

“Buy what China needs, but can’t make enough of for itself,” Chris Mayer urges, taking this investment theme to the next level.

“In other words, as an investor, buy what the Chinese have to buy. Conversely, don’t compete with China. Sell what the Chinese make plenty of. This next chart captures the idea. It shows China’s ability to produce a commodity against its demand for that commodity.

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“You want to be in the lower left-hand part of the chart. In short, the very best places to be are in potash, soybeans, iron ore and oil. In these commodities, China’s share of world production is low. For potash, China represents less than 5% of global production, as shown by the vertical axis. It is also not self-sufficient. As the horizontal axis shows, China’s production of potash is little more than 20% of its domestic demand.

“As for soybeans, China was once the world’s largest exporter. In 1995, it flipped to a net importer and has been the largest importer of soybeans in the world since 2000. Much of its supply is in the hands of companies such as Archer Daniels Midland, Bunge and Cargill.

“More broadly, this speaks to China’s growing demand for food, and its growing dependence on foreign suppliers to keep its rice bowls full. This is why we see China in recent months making deals for food.”