Should investors worry about China's impact on ASX shares?

There's a lot going on in China at the moment. And the Australian stock market is vulnerable. Here's why

A businessman holds his glasses in concern, indicating uncertainly in the ASX share price

Image source: Getty Images

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It feels like a decade's worth of events have occurred in China this year.

There have been clampdowns on technology and education companies, devastating stock prices in those sectors. Sweeping blackouts have been seen in some of the nation's biggest cities.

The prospect of real estate development companies collapsing, including China's biggest, has also loomed large.

According to Nucleus Wealth head of investments Damien Klassen, that last issue has been underplayed by western media and analysts.

"Dramatic declines in demand by the largest consumer of commodities in the world, Chinese housing construction, is an ominous sign," he said in a memo to clients.

"Evergrande is merely the first, there is a lot more to come. Metals are the last places to be invested if Chinese property construction slows."

Why are ASX shares so vulnerable to China?

And this is where the problem lies for Australia and ASX stocks.

Plunging commodity prices triggered by low demand out of China will lead to a downward whack to ASX shares, which are dominated by the mining sector.

Nucleus' analysis shows the best-case scenario for China's urban population growth will mean 20% less construction of homes in the next 10 years than the previous decade. 

The "gradual adjustment" scenario sees building activity reduced by a whopping 33%.

Yet there are many analysts still blowing the horn that stocks will keep heading up. Klassen reckons this is driven by self-interest.

"You make much better commissions convincing investors to blow the bubble bigger," he said.

"But iron ore and lumber have recently shown us that prices can halve in a matter of weeks. I prefer to bet on a lower tide."

So what do we do now?

There's an obvious course of action for Klassen's team to avoid any calamity China could cause on ASX shares.

"Australian equities have been a good source of investment performance in recent months. We switched out of them and into international equities and cash," he said.

"So far, the timing has been good. We have largely built the defensive side of the portfolio up, changing out of value winners like resources, banks, and cyclical industrials."

According to Klassen, the No. 1 current risk to stock investors is "policy error".

"Markets are [currently] supported to a great degree by central banks and governments," he said.

"Stock markets are expensive. Debt levels are extremely high. Government/central bank support continues but is slowing. Earnings growth had been really strong, but has come to a halt."

And any number of factors could bring on "unexpected inflation".

"Mutations could disrupt supply chains again. Chinese/developed world tensions might rise further, leading to more tariffs. Or, China might reverse its tightening on property sectors. Biden may get through additional stimulus, driving increases to minimum wages."

Motley Fool contributor Tony Yoo has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool Australia's parent company Motley Fool Holdings Inc. has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool Australia has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 400691). Authorised by Bruce Jackson.

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