Over the next few weeks, prepare for a deluge of arguments for and against China's entry into the
World Trade Organization
prepares to vote on granting China permanent normal trade relations, or PNTR. Some of our political leaders will demagogue, some will speak only after raising their fingers into the political wind, and a few will offer moving arguments for or against, spoken truthfully from the heart. It will bring out the best and worst of our democracy.
It may also be a buying opportunity for investors.
Consider what happened when the U.S. and China reached agreement last November on China's accession to the WTO: Businesspeople cheered, unions and human rights activists cried foul and investors gobbled up stocks in Chinese companies expected to do well by the deal. The result was a strong rally, which has since driven the benchmark
stock index in Hong Kong up 38%. Hot Chinese companies that list in the U.S. have performed extremely well, like
, which has tripled in value.
Usually investors "buy on the rumor, sell on the fact." This time they bought on the fact.
However, the luster has since worn off the rally a bit. Despite the deal, the likelihood that China will actually join the WTO quickly has diminished over the last few weeks. Its negotiations with the European Union have bogged down, although some expect a breakthrough soon.
Although Congress does not vote on the terms of the deal itself, it does have to agree to grant China PNTR, which would end the yearly vote on whether to raise tariffs with China. To avoid having a vote close to election time, and angering Democratic constituencies opposed to the deal, the
administration has pressed for an early vote. However, Congress has insisted on waiting until China's negotiations with the EU are completed.
Meanwhile, Vice President
admitted in a private meeting with union leaders he had problems with the deal, a gaffe which outraged many Democratic members of Congress who have been told this was a "must" vote for the President. And then, of course, there was China's saber-rattling over Taiwan's recent elections. All in all, the gang in the White House war room have had their work cut out for them.
In addition, the Chinese government issued a series of decrees to limit foreign ownership in Internet-related companies, souring investors on the potential of what is supposed to be one of the world's hot markets. And investors started to take a closer look at some of the super-hot tech bids like Internet portal
, which is down 40% in the last month or so, after rising 168% after the deal. (Obviously, it is still way up since the November deal, and it split two-for-one in December).
Now, however, the prospects for a vote are improving. The scuttlebutt these days is that the Republican leadership will set a vote in May, plenty of time to have a vote before campaign season really kicks in. Also, the unions are going to raise a fuss, but not go all the way and withhold support for candidates who support PNTR.
All of this translates into a buying opportunity, says Yadong Liu, a Managing Director at investment research firm
Medley Global Advisors
. "In terms of sentiment, (the PNTR vote) can generate another round of interest in things that have to do with China", says Liu.
While both sides agree the vote is very close, it seems likely that PNTR will pass. Other companies that may see a boost if it does include
Cable & Wireless-HKT
and financial conglomerate
. In addition, keep an eye out for the initial public offering of
, another Internet portal.
To be sure, should the vote fail, or be delayed, these stocks will undoubtedly take a hit. However, remember that China will enter the WTO whether it gains PNTR or not.
In the meantime, follow what I like to call the "Tom DeLay gauge." The hotter the rhetoric from the Texan congressman who likes to rail against the Chinese government, the greater the uncertainty around the vote -- and the better the buying opportunity.
David Kurapka's Trade Winds column appears Wednesdays and Fridays on TSC. In keeping with TSC's editorial policy, he does not own shares in any companies or mutual funds mentioned in this column. He also doesn't invest in hedge funds or other private investment partnerships. He welcomes your feedback at