In March 2014, two of China’s largest steel makers, Shanxi Haixin Iron and Steel Group Co. Ltd., and Haixin Steel defaulted on their bank loans. According to Caixin, a Beijing online news agency, the steel industry as a whole may default on $241 billion in loans obtained from the Chinese government. Also in March, solar panel manufacturer Chaori Solar defaulted on bond interest payments totaling $160 million. Apparently ending their tradition of state-sponsored bailouts, the Chinese government allowed these companies to default.
As the Chinese economy slows down, investors can profit by shorting a long ETF that holds Chinese stocks in major industries. The iShares China Large-Cap ETF (FXI) has a market cap of $5.12 billion and is among the most heavily traded ETFs. The ETF concentrates its holdings in financial services, communication services and technology. The SPDR China ETF (GXC) is another large-cap ETF that is heavily invested in Chinese financial service companies and technology companies. The Morgan Stanley China A Share Fund (CAF) has a much smaller market cap of $474 million. This ETF invests in a broad range of industries including Chinese commercial banks, insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies. Holding a short position with these ETFs could pay off when one or more sections hits a downturn.
Investors looking to short a particular sector can choose from several Global X long ETFs. The Global X China Consumer ETF (CHIQ) concentrates its investments in consumer cyclical goods and consumer defense goods. The Global X China Energy ETF (CHIE) primarily holds stocks in coal, oil and utility companies. The Global X China Financials ETF (CHIX) only invests in financial services companies and real estate companies. The Global X China Industrials ETF (CHII) holds stocks in industrial companies and basic materials companies. The Global X China Materials ETF (CHIM) invests in basic materials stocks. The Global X China Technology ETF (CHIB) holds technology stocks as the core of its investments. All of these ETFs are particularly sensitive to sector downturns and general economic contractions.
Three short ETFs are designed to profit from China’s economic downward slide. The ProShares Short FTSE China 25 (YXI), an unleveraged ETF, holds shares in iShares FTSE China Large-Cap (FXI) swaps. Investors looking to magnify their returns can choose from two leveraged short ETFs: ProShares Ultra Short FTSE China 25 (FXP) and Direxion Daily China Bear 3x Shares (YANG). Both ProShares Ultra Short and Direxion Daily hold shares that increase in value three times faster than an unleveraged ETF. The downside is that the per share price of these leveraged ETFs also drops three times faster.
It’s too soon to tell whether China is heading for a market meltdown or if the current wave of defaults is a much needed correction for an overheated economy. Until a downturn is confirmed, investors may want to hold off putting money into trading strategies that short the Chinese economy.