My dueling partner Billy Fisher apparently believes the "Look at China's growth!" argument for investing in Ctrip.com (Nasdaq: CTRP ) . Such high hopes often come crashing down when reality rears its ugly head.
Remember, much of China is an ecological catastrophe, thanks to weak environmental protections and corrupt officials. The country holds 16 of the 20 most polluted cities on the planet. Nobody likes serious pollution, but the people with enough money generally move away from it. As long as China keeps destroying its ecology, I'm betting it'll scare away enough affluent folks to undermine the construction of the giant middle class on which Billy's investment thesis depends.
Then there's China's faltering image in the world community. Let's look at some of the recent made-in-China fiascos:
- Lead-based paint found inMattel's (NYSE: MAT ) andRC2's (Nasdaq: RCRC ) toys.
- Toxic toothpaste.
- Lead-contaminated baby bibs in Toys "R" Us and Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT ) stores.
- Deadly dog and cat food.
The cheap manufacturing costs available in China only go so far. Smart companies look at the total delivered costs of their products. If the savings from cheap Chinese manufacturing get devoured by recalls, costlier inspections, and lost consumer confidence, China's low-total-cost edge will evaporate. With its export-focused economy, any slowdown of manufacturing will be devastating for the now-growing service-related Chinese companies like Ctrip.
And I haven't even touched on the risks to sustainable growth caused by China's disregard for intellectual property ...
Thanks to a combination of Olympics-related hype and corporate inertia, I give China another two or so years before the full weight of its problems come home to roost. If things don't fundamentally improve soon, high-flying, domestic-Chinese-growth-dependent companies like Ctrip will be the hardest hit.