On the Road to Profits in China's Auto Sector

 By: George Leong
Ever wonder how many cars are on the road in China? The estimates vary, ranging from 25 million to over 100 million. It seems no one really knows.

The Chinese auto sector had been sizzling, even overtaking the U.S. as the biggest car market in the world. With a middle class of over 300 million in a rapidly expanding Chinese economy, buying a car is paramount to the Chinese. However, the growth has been on the decline this year, as the government ended its tax incentives and jacked up taxes in order to streamline the number of new cars hitting the already clogged Chinese roads.

The Chinese car market grew 32% in 2010, but is estimated to falter to a mere three to five percent this year, according to the State Information Center.

So, while the Chinese auto sector will stall, it is clearly not dead. The demand for cars continues to be extremely high, as income levels continue to rise.

The key in China will be the rapid growth of the country's middle class. Credit Suisse predicted that the household wealth in China will double to $35.0 trillion by around 2015 based on achieving sustainable GDP growth at or near the current growth rate.

I have been a big supporter of the Chinese auto sector. Yes, the sector has slowed, but the massive potential is just too great to ignore. If you are patient, you need to have some capital in some of the Chinese auto-parts stocks or a play via U.S. automakers.

A lower-risk play on China's auto sector is General Motors Company (NYSE/GM). (Note that this is not a recommendation to buy the stock, but just an example to give you an idea of your options in this area.)

If you want to play via an U.S. automaker for less risk, General Motors is the top auto seller in China. GM and its Chinese partners (SAIC Motor and FAW Group) sold 2.35 million vehicles in 2010, well above the company's U.S. sales. The automaker is focusing its growth in China, as it feels the steady rise in the middle class will drive the demand for cars. GM will invest a minimum of $5.0 billion in China to try to reach a sales target of five million vehicles by 2015.

There is clearly some slowing in the Chinese auto market, but I view dips as an opportunity to buy for those with a longer-term view.

Consider that only about 41 in 1,000 Chinese own vehicles, according to some industry pundits. There is clearly ample room for growth, especially as the income levels continue to rise. This fact will drive vehicle sales going forward to the point where China will likely remain the top auto market in the world.

There are numerous ways to play the Chinese auto sector. You can buy an auto company on an American stock market with exposure to China, such as the major global automakers, as I discussed. Alternatively, you can buy Chinese auto-parts makers. Some interesting Chinese auto plays include China Automotive Systems, Inc. (NASDAQ/CAAS), Wonder Auto Technology, Inc. (NASDAQ/WATG), and SORL Auto Parts, Inc. (NASDAQ/SORL). Again, these are examples, not buy recommendations.
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