As the expression goes, travel broadens the mind. This last weekend found me in Beijing, the capital of China, with a modest formal agenda but an innate curiosity to find out a little more what makes the country tick.
I know China was not directly part of the recent excitable trade, diplomatic and so much more discussions in Canada, but when you think about the future of the global economy, the influence of the Middle Kingdom, is legion. A massive billion plus population, the most important at-the-margin consumer of almost any commodity you could mention and an evolving internal that is generating change and potential.
As a reasonably frequent visitor to East Asia over the past decade or two, i have been a fortunate witness to much change, insights which have helped me make investment decisions and be comfortable identifying various important – and importantly investable – themes. So, from the context of the Dynamic Opportunities Fund, what would be my three most important “Beijing weekend” takeaways?
1.Bigger, faster, louder, noisier – as one local said to me: ‘a minute is a long time to wait in Beijing’. Even from the vantage point of the 81st floor viewing gallery of one of the tallest buildings in the city, I struggled to see the end of Beijing – which reminded me of similar thoughts in time past in Tokyo. However, in the reflective and comparably quiet Japanese capital, a minute is a long time. On the ground the vigour and noise of the jostling cars reminded me of New York, especially surrounded by a landscape seemingly consisting of an endless bevy of skyscrapers.
2. It is glorious to consume – as the Dyson shop juxtaposed into the gargantuan Apple store whilst – over the road, Mercedes attempted a soft sell that only modestly touched on cars whilst Costa Coffee blended into the local backdrop with a clever redesign compared to their UK norm, let alone the myriad of local Chinese brands competing for the attention of anyone passing through, any concerns about the reality behind the rise and rise of the Chinese consumer should be put aside. However it was not the sheer extent of shiny top-end Beijing consumption that struck me most, it was the comment from my guide at the Forbidden City – surely the top attraction for any first time visitor to the Chinese capital – who observed that the greater capabilities for leisure travel of non-Beijingers to famous national monuments, that has pushed up visitors to near breaking point, and the like was the real growth consumer story.
3. M-commerce – want to do anything from hailing a taxi, to paying your bill at a restaurant, signing up to a retail marketing list, paying for your museum gifts or just a simple coffee? Then all you need is your phone and a mobile commerce app. Yes, this capability exists in the UK too but not yet to this sheer fluidity and comprehension for younger and older alike. I felt like a spending dinosaur with my cash and credit cards. I felt as if i was looking into the near-future. What must Chinese visitors think when they visit the UK?
Of course now the challenge is to use these themes and insights to help identify some direct investments – both in Asia and in other parts of the world – that are particular beneficiaries of these themes. It always helps though when travel broadens the mind.