One Huge Investment Trend for the Next Decade

We hit the streets of Beijing yesterday to start getting a look at street-level economics. We visited a Carrefour hypermarket. Carrefour is the big French retailer and the world’s second largest. It was also one of the early birds to crack China, opening its first store in 1995. Today, it has over 150 stores and is a multibillion-dollar business.

The hypermarket we visited was typical for China, but huge by US standards. We visited one on a late Sunday afternoon. There were 54 checkout counters, and all but one were open. Every open checkout had a line five or six deep. You see for yourself here:

It was an amazing sight. All that talk of the Chinese middle class – well, you can see the idea in action here as bluejeans-wearing shoppers in sneakers pack the aisles.

Carrefour’s hypermarkets are a kind of Wal-Mart operation that sells everything from fresh meat and produce to deodorant and air conditioners. We saw Crest toothpaste, set off in its own display area as if were designer perfume or something.

The name ‘Carrefour’ means ‘crossroads.’ And this store was certainly a crossroads of Western-style consumerism meets Chinese tastes and sensibilities. The aisles were brightly lit and wide and all the world’s brands seemed to be on the shelves. Yet we saw tanks of live fish and fresh-cut meat. It also had the feel of an indoor street market, with people barking out sales and offers like street hawkers.

We also visited an IKEA, which was similarly mammoth and packed. And our local contact here told us that on a Saturday, or in the middle of the day, these places would literally be elbow-to-elbow jammed with people.

It speaks to one of the great investment opportunities of the next decade: catering to the emerging middle class in China, India and Indonesia.

Chris Mayer
for The Daily Reckoning