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China Watch: No Speed Bumps in Infrastructure Race

Infrastructure in China stands at an unusually high 9% of the GDP. As it's pretty hard to hide behind the in-your-face mega-projects, Chinese officials have reformulated their formula: "At a time when external demand shows no signs of improving and domestic consuming habits need time to adjust, well-planned infrastructure investment seems essential, if not the only option for China to boost its sagging economy," the official Xinhua News Agency said last month.

No wonder China got its most-ambitious-ever high-speed railway plan rolling over the past five years and last month announced that it would build 70 new airports plus expand another 100 by 2015. China will speed spending on roads, utilities and more railways to boost growth, the official China Securities Journal adds.

Get ready for an infrastructure boom by year's end, warns Barclays Capital Asia regional economist Wai Ho Leong.

"There is a growing acceptance that after the leadership transition in September, the new administration would unveil more ambitious spending plans," he says. "Corporate planners are now preparing for the resurgence."

So new infrastructure will keep trucking along. But in case something like the debts owed by state-owned developers or unforeseen macroeconomic snags force China to hit the brakes at home, consider Beijing's boom frontier in Africa.

A "concentration of projects" are going up in Angola, Nigeria and Sudan, to name three of 35 African countries invested by China, says the Japan External Trade Organization, a market research agency backed by the government Tokyo. Japan has historically led Asia in largess for the developing world, hence its interest. China sights Africa mainly for power generation and transport.

But despite the speed and scope of new Chinese infrastructure, it's not easy to build a portfolio of related stocks.

China State Construction Engineering share prices have slipped 17% over the past year, modest given market trends worldwide, but it's listed in Shanghai, where foreign investors often feel uncomfortable because of transparency problems.

However, shares of China Railway Construction are traded in less opaque Hong Kong, likewise transport infrastructure builder China Communications Construction Co. (1800.HK). Share prices of both are tacking neither up nor down.
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