China Watch: Party Confab Aside, Expect More of the Same

HONG KONG (TheStreet) -- China's top Communists, still the only Party in the house, came together over the past week for a once-in-five-years congress to turn up the volume on their nation's economy.

As the party got rolling, I came to Hong Kong, the world's center for fast visas to mainland China. I was rejected twice in one day for a tourist visa because my aging U.S. passport reveals that I was once a journalist stationed in Beijing.

It used to be that a China ex-scribe (read ex-con) could get a China tourist visa in Hong Kong just with a letter promising not to gather news up north. My journalist friends in Asia say my timing couldn't have been less timely.

That foreign journalists can't even get close to the Party's party may be the biggest change since the same group of leaders met in 2007.

Looking at the other announcements made at the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, it's hard to get too excited for your portfolio. Just feel assured that positions taken to date on China don't need too much adjustment.

In particular, I was watching for a policy announcement on Chinese yuan exchange rates. That would have helped exports from China but hurt large, listed American companies that ship to China and to stores in the United States. But no new policy.

Items Resolved

Studying the announcements one by one, as reported by China's uber-official Xinhua News Agency (and rebroadcast on TV for a stoic Hong Kong), we the Party shalt:

1. Increase the income of urban and rural residents, improve the social security system, further narrow urban-rural and regional disparities and address unfairness in income distribution.

How about parking a Chinese citizen on Jupiter, too? Yet as heavenly as this edict sounds, it covers no new territory.

The government has talked for a decade about closing a vast, stubborn urban-rural income divide and offering a safety net for those still at the butt end of it. The unfairness issue still looms large as migrant workers living on a few bucks a day in Shanghai nearly get run down by fellow countrymen in Audis headed home to their multi-million-yuan townhouses.

If the migrants grow too resentful, they riot and the Party looks stupid until enough cops show up and send everyone home to their shacks.

Chinese government efforts, plus many more individual ones, have reduced poverty from 94.22 million people to 26.88 million in the decade ending in 2010, according to an impossibly rosy Xinhua statistic. Still, the trend is qualitatively correct and will go on, meaning people in the countryside live eight instead of 18 people to an outhouse while the urban dude can still upgrade his Audi. Some impact on consumption (see item No. 2 below).

This resolution is also a boon for infrastructure, as the government tends to go for development projects, such as rural broadband, when targeting the poor. Nice if you're invested in Alcatel-Lucent ( ALU), an old friend of China that will help extend high-speed broadband to more than 250 million rural as well as urban households by 2015.

2. Maintain a steady and relatively fast economic growth and push forward reform and economic restructuring.

Done deal. China's GDP has grown around 9% to 10% over the past decade and is expected to pick up late this year despite forecasts for a full 2012 slump to 7.5%, still the envy of any developed country.

Current Party head Hu Jintao also told the Party congress that per capita income now at an average $4,940 a year should double by 2020 and (as higher pay leads to more shopping) boost the country's 2010 GDP accordingly.

Fancy new numbers, but nothing conceptually new. China has been pushing to raise domestic consumption since last year and reduce dependency on exports to shaky Western markets, explaining the lack of new monetary policy.

This reaffirms the China strategies of firms such as Motorola ( MOT), long one of the top sellers of everyday mobile phones across China.

The congress also picked a new guy who we know little about to replace Hu as Party general secretary. But the replacement, Xi Jinping, is unlikely to change course.

3. Give priority to the anti-corruption combat because it is a matter of life or death to the Party and the country.

You'd think this order would mean no more dipping your hand in the traditional Communist cadre cookie jar stuffed with fancy cars, top-floor condos, bottles of Maotai and envelopes full of cash. Huh-uh.

Corruption will go on as usual, but the indulgent will take more care not to get caught and left with bullets in their brains. If you're invested in golf, Mercedes Benz (216006.DE) (with its 11% year-on-yaer sales gain in the first half of 2012), Chinese real estate or booze, such as Kweichow Maotai (600519.SS), just go get some sleep.

4. Make special efforts to . . . enhance democracy, optimize the legal system and practice the rule of law.

This order boils down to an eight-letter word starting with a barnyard animal and ending with what falls from its rear.

Which means, and this is important, that foreign multinational corporations keen on their China business will still waste time and money paying people off, hiring local partners and learning the not-so-legal, nontransparent secrets to making money. It's a cost of business best absorbed by well-informed, well-established firms such as the soft drink giants, the likes of General Motors ( GM), a solid stock market performer that has sold well in China since its first joint venture there in 1995.

Watch the stock, and Asia revenues, in these multinationals. Hold off on the shares of companies that are just getting off the plane in Beijing, though if their managers got visas for November 2012, that's something.

At the time of publication, the author has no positions in the shares of companies mentioned.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

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