The Three Best Ways to Play the Chinese Market

China is still one of the fastest growing markets in the world; here are three of the safest ways to play it.

Marshall Hargrave
Marshall Hargrave
Apr 17, 2014 at 10:43AM
Consumer Goods

If you don't want to invest directly in Chinese companies, you can still gain access to one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. The best way to do this is to invest in U.S. companies with exposure to the Chinese economy.

The three companies below all have exposure to China but still have strong footings in the U.S.. All three of them have opportunities to grow their businesses in China along with heavy diversification in other markets. This contrasts with other companies, such as Mead Johnson, which gets over 30% of its revenue from China. 

Finding value among consumer products
It's no surprise that the largest consumer products company in the world, Procter & Gamble (NYSE:PG), has a presence in China. Its products have impressive breadth and reach. It has 25 brands that each bring in more than a billion in sales annually.

Back in 2013, Millward Brown, the brand research company, found that P&G had three of the top five brands in China: Pampers, Olay, and Crest. The other two brands in the top five included Yum! Brands' KFC and Colgate of Colgate-Palmolive. P&G already has quite an impressive presence in the country. And although P&G doesn't break out its revenue from China, the revenue that P&G is getting from developing countries grown from 35% (of total revenues) in 2011 to 40% in its last fiscal year. 

A company has big opportunities to streamline its production and product roll-out in markets abroad, such as that of China, by localizing its production. This should help the company boost its margins via supply chain efficiencies.

A high-end accessory play
Coach (NYSE:TPR) is another major company that is looking to China for growth. Only about 30% of its revenue comes from outside of North America. Coach has focused on building its Americas portfolio and it has done a great job of it. It has a very recognizable brand when it comes to high-end handbags. 

For 2014, Coach plans to open 15 stores in North America and 30 in China as it expands its strong brand into the faster-growing Chinese market. This comes after it opened only 10 stores in China last year. Its store count in China currently makes up about 25% of its total store base.

Coach is also focusing more on the men's accessory market. That's a big positive considering how much men spend on luxury items in China. In China the men's market makes up 55% of luxury-goods spending, while the global average is closer to 40%.

It's tough to go wrong with athletics
Nike (NYSE:NKE) is a leader when it comes to athletic apparel and footwear. And athletic apparel is gaining traction, where individuals are living a more active lifestyle. . The problem is that this is really only true for the U.S. Nike still has a large opportunity to capture market share in China. It generates just around 10% of its revenue from China. However, it does remain the leader in the country--it owns some 12% of the Chinese sportswear market, versus adidas' 11%.

Nike is making an effort to become more of a direct-to-consumer company. This includes its decision to open a store in Shanghai. The Nike in China story going forward should be about increasing the company's brand awareness. Along those lines it's partnering with governments and universities in China to support running clubs. 

The other nice thing about Nike is that it continues to have a strong balance sheet, with a debt-to-equity ratio of only 11%. Its return on equity is fairly high at 25%. Compare that to adidas' 25% debt-to-equity and its 15% return on equity. 

Bottom line
The fact remains that China's economic growth is expected to remain well above the U.S. for the next couple of years. But when investing in China, investors should find a company with a strong brand and geographical diversification. For investors looking to increase their exposure to China, the three stocks above are great places to start.