Should you invest in China's stock market? Know this one thing first.

Despite incredible economic growth, it is not necessarily an investor's paradise.

Weijian Shan: 10 years ago I would say that the Chinese economy didn't really matter to American consumers and to American market. But as you saw, when Apple made this announcement, then their stock dropped 10%. The broad market came down about 3%. There used to be a saying in 1980s that when America coughs, the rest of the world catches cold. And today it seems to me that when China sneezes, that the rest of the world at least coughs. So it's relevant and it's important, and therefore it's important to understand it.

I think understanding its most recent history, as I explained in my book, Out of the Gobi, will be useful. You wouldn't want to get into a market without knowing anything about it. What is the most deceiving thing about China is that growth doesn't necessarily translate into profitability. If you look at the Chinese stock market, which started around 1992-- so by now we're talking about 27 years, right? And in that 27 years, China's economy has grown-- can you guess by how much? It has grown by 30 times in nominal terms. 30 times in 27 years. If you had invested in China's stock market from very beginning, 1992, and you have held your investment for all this years, never got out, during which the economy has grown by 30 times, how much money do you think you would have made as an investor? You will have lost money, right?

People would ask why that is the case. Now there is not a strong correlation between the stock market and economic performance at any given moment. However, over a long period of time, let's say 20 years, in every country there is positive correlation between economic growth and stock market performance. And China is a single exception.

You know, I've heard some investors telling me-- we're in the investment business. We are in private equity business, so we have many investors who trust us with their money to invest in Asia, particularly in China. They say well, China now is second largest economy in the world, America is the largest, and I allocate 40% of my capital to America, I should allocate at least 30% to China just by the sheer size of the economy. And I would tell them a story about how China has grown the past 20 some years and how the stock market would actually give them a negative return. And then you look into the question-- why that is the case? It has to do with China's economic growth model driven so much by investments. And therefore, yes, earnings have been growing in aggregate in China. But the capital base with which you produce the earnings has been growing even faster, because China has invested so much and therefore ROE, or return on capital, may be falling.

If you don't understand it, if you invest just in economic growth, you will understand that there is a bad economy with a lot of overcapacity, and there is a good economy which is actually growing, then you're bound to make mistakes.

  • China's stock market is just 27 years old. It's economy has grown 30x over that time.
  • Imagine if you had invested early and gotten in on the ground floor.
  • Actually, you would have lost money. Here's how that's possible.

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10 excerpts from Marcus Aurelius' 'Meditations' to unlock your inner Stoic

Great ideas in philosophy often come in dense packages. Then there is where the work of Marcus Aurelius.

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Personal Growth
  • Meditations is a collection of the philosophical ideas of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius.
  • Written as a series of notes to himself, the book is much more readable than the dry philosophy most people are used to.
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An organism found in dirt may lead to an anxiety vaccine, say scientists

Can dirt help us fight off stress? Groundbreaking new research shows how.

University of Colorado Boulder
Surprising Science
  • New research identifies a bacterium that helps block anxiety.
  • Scientists say this can lead to drugs for first responders and soldiers, preventing PTSD and other mental issues.
  • The finding builds on the hygiene hypothesis, first proposed in 1989.

Are modern societies trying too hard to be clean, at the detriment to public health? Scientists discovered that a microorganism living in dirt can actually be good for us, potentially helping the body to fight off stress. Harnessing its powers can lead to a "stress vaccine".

Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder found that the fatty 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid from the soil-residing bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae aids immune cells in blocking pathways that increase inflammation and the ability to combat stress.

The study's senior author and Integrative Physiology Professor Christopher Lowry described this fat as "one of the main ingredients" in the "special sauce" that causes the beneficial effects of the bacterium.

The finding goes hand in hand with the "hygiene hypothesis," initially proposed in 1989 by the British scientist David Strachan. He maintained that our generally sterile modern world prevents children from being exposed to certain microorganisms, resulting in compromised immune systems and greater incidences of asthma and allergies.

Contemporary research fine-tuned the hypothesis, finding that not interacting with so-called "old friends" or helpful microbes in the soil and the environment, rather than the ones that cause illnesses, is what's detrimental. In particular, our mental health could be at stake.

"The idea is that as humans have moved away from farms and an agricultural or hunter-gatherer existence into cities, we have lost contact with organisms that served to regulate our immune system and suppress inappropriate inflammation," explained Lowry. "That has put us at higher risk for inflammatory disease and stress-related psychiatric disorders."

University of Colorado Boulder

Christopher Lowry

This is not the first study on the subject from Lowry, who published previous work showing the connection between being exposed to healthy bacteria and mental health. He found that being raised with animals and dust in a rural environment helps children develop more stress-proof immune systems. Such kids were also likely to be less at risk for mental illnesses than people living in the city without pets.

Lowry's other work also pointed out that the soil-based bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae acts like an antidepressant when injected into rodents. It alters their behavior and has lasting anti-inflammatory effects on the brain, according to the press release from the University of Colorado Boulder. Prolonged inflammation can lead to such stress-related disorders as PTSD.

The new study from Lowry and his team identified why that worked by pinpointing the specific fatty acid responsible. They showed that when the 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid gets into cells, it works like a lock, attaching itself to the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR). This allows it to block a number of key pathways responsible for inflammation. Pre-treating the cells with the acid (or lipid) made them withstand inflammation better.

Lowry thinks this understanding can lead to creating a "stress vaccine" that can be given to people in high-stress jobs, like first responders or soldiers. The vaccine can prevent the psychological effects of stress.

What's more, this friendly bacterium is not the only potentially helpful organism we can find in soil.

"This is just one strain of one species of one type of bacterium that is found in the soil but there are millions of other strains in soils," said Lowry. "We are just beginning to see the tip of the iceberg in terms of identifying the mechanisms through which they have evolved to keep us healthy. It should inspire awe in all of us."

Check out the study published in the journal Psychopharmacology.