A bull's eye view of investment in China

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 April, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 21 April, 2008, 12:00am

It can take a while to warm to Jim Rogers. First you have to push past his enthusiasm for quoting Confucius and Mao and then you have to get beyond his fondness for recalling personal firsts in China ('It was my first time...' or 'I remember the first time...'). Then there are the Red Guard references and exclamation marks.

But once you make the effort A Bull in China is a surprising range of company research for the lay speculator with a few dollars to risk.

Rogers is the co-founder of the private Quantum Fund, and is regularly referred to as an investment guru. His book is an elementary textbook for the novice investor with an eye to capitalising on the seismic changes occurring on the mainland. It is directed at an American audience and written as a series of starting points rather than a list of top tips and company recommendations.

He does not say which stocks he has bought into but if he were to have a mantra, it would be to 'get out of the dollar, teach your children Chinese and buy commodities'.

Nevertheless, readers should feel free to skip the introduction where Rogers takes a trip down memory lane - he has covered a lot of territory with a motorbike and a Mercedes - and cut to his informative sections on share types and stock and currency reforms.

Despite his motivational speaker tone, Singapore-based Rogers has a more low-key approach to personal investing. His aim is to buy cheap and remain patient and, because his sights are set on the longer term, he identifies potential threats to stability. He gives a concise, common sense analysis of the country's challenges, ranging from the ambiguities of Taiwan to the perils of excessive liquidity.

Throughout these explanations, Rogers shares some of his 'Sino Files', listed companies affected by the issue at hand. And this is where he comes into his own. Ethical investors might baulk at buying a piece of Jiangnan Heavy Industry - 'one of a consortium of companies that will help build China's first aircraft carrier'. But they could consider environmentally friendly operations such as Fujian Longking, 'the first listed company in China that produces machinery for desulphurisation and dust cleaning' or Suntech Power Holdings, one of the world's top 10 manufacturers of photovoltaic cells.

Rogers then goes on to explore the changes occurring across sectors, including health, agriculture and education. Again, these contain useful overviews and options for getting in on the action. Who knew that you could buy a part of China's space programme or that Long March Launch Vehicle Technology was even a listed company?

He also includes an appendix of websites for readers to start their own research.

One of the hazards of a hardcover book is that unless the content is timeless, it can easily look dated. Even from a surface reading, one or two references to Macau's casinos in the tourism chapter made the information seem oh-so-2006.

And all too often Rogers lapses into naff jokes ('The first Chinese tour group is in the midst of its journey [to Antarctica] ... I wonder whether they're taking along chopsticks and just what the penguins are going to think.')

He becomes more insightful on investing and his thoughts take on a bigger meaning - particularly in these bombastic times - when he says that 'historically, there's no upside to hysteria'.