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Why ASX investors should take note of China’s latest family policy changes

  • Tech and education crackdown sends Chinese shares falling
  • China government aims to ease cost of living pressures
  • Questions over risk-reward balance for investors

CHINESE regulators this week outlined reforms that will ban private firms that teach the school curriculum from generating profits, raising capital or going public.

The move was aimed at reducing cost-of-living expenses for Chinese familes, who are now encouraged to have three children.

The changes caught investors by surprise. Shares in Chinese private education companies inside and outside the country plummeted.

But this policy shift also has potential implications for a number of Australian-listed companies, in areas such as infant formula.

“There’s two interesting aspects here,” says Elise McKay, an analyst in Pendal’s equities team.

“First of all, China needs to address its population problem.”

Pendal equities analyst Elise McKay
Pendal equities analyst Elise McKay

“New births have fallen off in China to the lowest level since the famine in 1961. Women of child-bearing age are having fewer children and the population is ageing. This causes real issues.”

“COVID has accelerated this because some people are putting off pregnancy while they get vaccinated or to avoid getting COVID while they are pregnant.”

“The new policy is to lower the cost of raising a child and boost birth rates. They also want to reduce inequality amongst those who can afford to pay for after school tutoring and those who cannot,” says McKay.

Lifting China’s birth rate is potentially good news for businesses that sell to Chinese families, including Australia’s high-profile suppliers of infant formula. 

However there is a second aspect to this shift.

“There’s also this increasing uncertainty around regulation, particularly in public companies,” says McKay.

“We need to watch for signals of regulation around pricing for infant formula – this also affects the cost of rearing children.”

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“We may also see China look to prioritise domestic brands.”

There are several recent examples of greater intervention in markets. The move in education comes after similar crackdowns in technology, payments and ride-hailing.

A high-profile investigation into ride-hailing firm Didi’s handling of customer data that halved the newly-listed company’s share price.

And it follows a regulatory inquiry into tech giant Alibaba earlier this year that scuppered the float of its payments arm Ant.

A higher birth rate could be an opportunity for Australian companies. But the prospect of more regulation and the prioritisation of domestic brands may shift the balance of risk against investors.

“It’s very nuanced,” says McKay. “And it’s a case for actively managing risk. It is a development that we will be watching very closely.”

About Elise McKay and Pendal

Elise is an investment analyst with Pendal’s Australian equities team. Elise previously worked as an investment analyst for US fund manager Cartica where she covered a variety of emerging market companies.

She has also worked in investment banking and corporate finance at JP Morgan and Ernst & Young.

Pendal is an independent, global investment management business focused on delivering superior investment returns for our clients through active management. 

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This article has been prepared by Pendal Fund Services Limited (PFSL) ABN 13 161 249 332, AFSL No 431426 and the information contained within is current as at July 28, 2021. It is not to be published, or otherwise made available to any person other than the party to whom it is provided.

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