How Much Will China Affect Your Portfolio?

China Correlations

When Apple reported its fourth quarter earnings earlier this week, Tim Cook, the company’s CEO, noted signs of “economic softness” in the greater China region. Apple’s stock fell by more than 6% the next day. While China wasn’t solely responsible for this decline, it highlights how economic conditions on the other side of the world can affect US investors. How much will China’s financial travails affect your portfolio?

You can have direct exposure to China by owning stock in Chinese companies (for example through mutual funds and exchange traded funds). As Apple shows, you can also have indirect exposure to China through companies based in other countries. The iPhone maker gets almost 25% of its revenue from greater China (meaning China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan). Apple is something of an outlier, however; overall only about 2% of large US companies’ revenue comes from China.

The Chinese economy can also indirectly have an impact on companies around the world in other ways, such as by affecting commodity prices. So which countries are most closely tied to China? The graph above shows the correlations between the movements of Chinese stocks and many of the world’s other large stock markets during the past three years. Correlation is a statistical measure of how closely two things move together, where a correlation of 1 means they move in lockstep and -1 means they move exactly opposite each other.

Other countries in the Asia Pacific region—South Korea, Taiwan, and Australia—have the highest correlations with China. Interestingly Japan, China’s neighbor across the East China Sea, has the lowest correlation of the countries examined. The US is in the middle of the pack.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of these correlations, however, is that they’re all fairly closely bunched together. By contrast Chinese stocks have a correlation of only 0.35 with commodities, and a correlation of -0.14 with US investment grade bonds. That’s probably not because Chinese itself has a large effect on all the different countries’ stock markets, but rather that the same factors that affect Chinese stocks (such as the outlook for the global economy) affect stocks all around the globe.

So while some particular companies (such as Apple) and some particular countries (such as South Korea) may add some additional “indirect” China exposure to your portfolio, it’s important not to lose sight of the bigger picture. No matter what happens in Chinese markets, your investment performance is likely to be driven more by your broader exposure to different asset classes than by particular companies or countries.