(How/Why) Is China Different? “Investor Culture Shock” Explained


On a superficial level, we know or think we know that there can be differences between nations. But do we meaningfully internalize this reality or limit ourselves to superficially acknowledging it? When it comes to most Western investors and their attitude toward China, the latter tends to be much closer to reality.

In other words, yes, the average Western investors “kind of, sort of” expects things to be different in China than in his country. But he expects this in the manner in which a German expects things to be different in Belgium. Or in other words, he expects the status quo to be “kind of, but not really” different. To be even more precise in this characterization, the average Western investor expects minor, superficial differences but for the most part, assumes that in China, all of the core Western values will be respected.

Big, big mistake.

As a tourist, “culture shock” moments may be embarrassing or cause discomfort, fair enough. But as an investor, they may very well bankrupt you or at the very least cause a very significant financial setback. As such, words cannot begin to described how important it is to embrace Chinese assets in an “expect the unexpected” manner because make no mistake, you will be on the receiving end of a fair bit of just that.

Perhaps the main problem with core values is that we end up taking them for granted, to the point of considering them ubiquitous. After all, of course people should be allowed to choose their leaders in a democratic manner, isn’t that right? The same way, the same kind of fiscal and legislative predictability is to be expected in all jurisdictions, correct? The list could go on and on.

Problems start appearing when it becomes clear the hard way that those values are not ubiquitous. When, for example, the authorities over in China crank down on an entire industry overnight. All of a sudden, after nothing more than a few signatures, the profitability or even very existence of an entire industry can be wiped out.

A textbook is represented by the (in)famous cryptocurrency industry. It is worth noting that for a relatively (by cryptocurrency standards) period of time, Chinese exchanges were dominant. Extremely high trading volumes, robust liquidity (even if much of that liquidity was questionable), impressive growth. Fast-forward to the present and Chinese exchanges are (pretty much) nowhere to be found. Why? Simply because as of a certain point, the authorities decided that Chinese exchanges are no longer desirable. Just like that, an entire industry was crippled and at that point, this had reverberations across the entire crypto scene, generating a bitcoin price crash from approximately $5,000 to roughly $3,000. In the end, many companies had to either go out of business completely or move to friendlier jurisdictions. Again, a few signatures are all it takes.

Nowadays, cryptocurrency mining is a major business in China. So significant, in fact, that even bitcoin itself which has decentralization as its number one selling point has become heavily centralized when it comes to mining… there are simply so many well-funded mining businesses which leverage (relatively) cheap energy prices and lower workforce costs that companies from other jurisdictions have a hard time competing with them.

Business is booming.

However, what should a wise investor do when thinking about allocating some capital toward a Chinese mining-related opportunity? In our opinion, the unexpected should be expected. Or, in other words, there is nothing wrong with saying yes to the opportunity if the risk to reward ratio makes sense. But when it comes to thinking about the risk dimension more so than the other one, prudence is the operative word. Knowing that you are just one legislative event away from being wiped out completely.

Perhaps you believe the potential rewards are great enough to justify this risk anyway, fair enough… as long as you properly take the “culture shock” risk dimension into consideration. And this is where so many Western investors fail as far as China is concerned. Whether you are interested in a cryptocurrency-related opportunity or one related to more established industries, blindly “going all-in” should be avoided at all costs.

This is why we frequently cover culture-related topics here at ChinaFund, this is why we also cover some of the most sensitive political ones such as the history/role of the Communist Party of China. We don’t do it for the sake of showing off, we do it because it is essential. Could we simply limit ourselves to analyzing economic indicators? Of course. In fact, this is what quite a few of our competitors choose to do. But make no mistake, you will never even come close to “getting” China if you don’t dig deep enough.

As convenient as it may seem to remain in your intellectual comfort zone, this frequently comes at a price tag steeper than what most Western investors anticipate. The ChinaFund.com team believes that going that extra mile enables you to avoid potentially portfolio direction-altering mistakes and is here to assist you throughout the process. To work with a team that prides itself on having all bases covered, simply visit the Consulting section of our website and get in touch.

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