The 1970s and 1980s were an era where the free market economies appeared victorious over the planned economies of Eastern Europe. However, juxtaposed against that consensus was the Japanese economic miracle, which appeared to be more successful than either, with strong centralised planning against a backdrop of private ownership of businesses. Despite this, it has become widely acknowledged that free markets are much more successful than central planning, and state interference will ultimately lead to failure.
We raise this in the context of China, which also mixed centralised planning and control with a liberal smattering of free market economics, to foster its rise from little mentioned backwater to economic, and now political, powerhouse. It can now be argued that China may overtake the US as the world’s strongest economic and political power in the coming decades.
State sponsorship of industries has been a feature of international economic development throughout history and it remains a strong feature today. In China, the government has been encouraging heavy investment in new energy technologies for some time. They have set up special development zones, such as new green cities, they’ve been accused of dumping solar panels into western markets and, most recently, they’ve been making huge strides in electric vehicles.
Our outlook here in Europe is too often clouded by our history and perspective. We, like the US, experienced the internal combustion engine as a massive enabling technology, bringing economic and social benefits to several generations. For this reason, Europeans and Americans have a real sentimental attachment to their cars, particularly among those of a certain age.
If you had spent the last thirty years in a major Chinese city you would have a very different perspective on the merits of internal combustion engines, given the high levels of pollution and consequent health effects. Combined with very little, if any, cultural heritage for the old technology, it is easy to see the world’s largest and fastest growing car markets moving to rapid adoption of electric vehicles. Add to this the government’s very active sponsorship of the industry and a potential new global leader is born.
In the West, it’s easy to think that Tesla is the biggest maker of electric vehicles, but this is far from the case. BYD is the world’s largest maker and China is the world’s largest market for electric vehicles. A western perspective might lead investors to miss some potential winners in this key and rapidly developing industry. This is especially true when we consider the valuations the market is attributing to Tesla versus its Chinese peers, Geely Automobiles and BYD.
Having a global perspective and being pragmatic are key parts of our process, so while we can understand the attraction of Tesla as a producer of high end electric vehicles, the real opportunity is outside most investors’ field of vision. Being directly invested allows us to have more precise exposure to our themes, for example, our new energy thematic basket includes both Geely Automobiles and BYD, but at present we don’t own Tesla.
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