China Economy

Investors are zeroing in on a Chinese sector 'entirely not affected by the trade war'

Key Points
  • Investors say China's still underdeveloped education sector is destined to expand and offers opportunities unaffected by the ongoing trade war.
  • Hong Kong-based asset manager Value Partners has announced a private equity fund to invest in education in the Chinese mainland.
  • China has taken steps to deregulate the sector, while relaxation of restrictions on family size could provide a future boost in demand.
Students at Jing'an Education College Affiliated School in Shanghai.
Philippe Lopez | AFP | Getty Images

The U.S.-China trade war is a major factor dominating global economic worries, but some investors think they've found a good bet beyond the headlines.

Hong Kong-based asset manager Value Partners, for example, is honing in on China's fast-growing education sector.

"We're seeing huge potential in education," King Lun Au, chief executive officer of Value Partners Group, said Monday on CNBC's "Squawk Box."

The sector is still relatively underdeveloped, but things are changing fast: China, in September last year, changed its policy to start opening up the sector by allowing some schools to be run on a for-profit basis, Au said.

"And so that's a huge opportunity," he added.

There's 'huge potential' in China's education sector: CEO
There's 'huge potential' in China's education sector: CEO

China in recent years has relaxed policies that limited family sizes, which is a factor that is expected to increase demand for schooling.

The country's education sector is expected to grow to nearly 3 trillion yuan ($432 billion) in 2020 from 1.6 trillion yuan in 2015, Deloitte said in a 2016 report.

Value Partners announced in July an agreement with a Chinese partner to set up the fund in which investments will primarily be in private higher and vocational education in mainland China. It is targeting assets under management of 5 billion Chinese yuan ($720 million), according to the announcement.

'Just started to open up'

Au stressed that the top six companies operating in Chinese education account for just 6 percent of the total market, suggesting there is plenty of room for growth and new entrants.

"Remember, the market has just started to open up," Au said, adding that the fund is focused on higher education and vocational training because that is where "sustainable" demand is.

Kevin Leung, executive director for investment strategy and wealth management at Haitong International Securities Company in Hong Kong, is also bullish on Chinese education.

"It's definitely a good growth area," Leung told CNBC on Monday.

He cited a combination of a still-underdeveloped sector, increasing demand and the willingness of people to pay for education even when tuition fees rise, a phenomenon he said is seen in other countries.

"I think it's a pretty simple sort of business model," he said. "You just have number of schools times the numbers of students times the tuition fee."

The only causes for concern Leung noted are existing valuations, which he said are "pretty expensive," and some lingering worries about regulation.

But the sector offers investors opportunity in an area that is "entirely not affected by the trade war," he said. "That's also a positive."