Chinese liquor stock that drew comparisons to bitcoin is clinging to 2020 gains

Kweichow Moutai is the most famous Chinese liquor brand, regarded as the national liquor in China.

Zhang Peng | LightRocket | Getty Images

BEIJING — The biggest stock in the mainland Chinese “A share” market is a liquor company that analysts are betting on for the long term, despite its plunge in the last month.

Kweichow Moutai sells “baijiu” which has an alcohol content of about 43% to 53% and can cost about a few hundred U.S. dollars per bottle. Baijiu — literally “white spirits” — is a staple at Chinese business and government dinners for forging relationships and deals.

The stock was down about 1% year-to-date as of Monday morning, holding 2020’s gains of roughly 70%.

Earlier this year, the stock’s rapid surge in price drew internet memes comparing it to the GDP of Chinese cities and bitcoin’s high-flying price. Cryptocurrency bitcoin has surged more than 80% this year to above $60,000.

Moutai’s share price had climbed 30% from Dec. 31 to a record high just before the Lunar New Year in mid-February, when it achieved a market value of $500 billion. That’s been shaved by over $100 billion in the weeks since, as shares fell more than 20% amid a broad sell-off in Chinese stocks.

But Kweichow Moutai still has a bigger valuation than any other mainland A share stock, including the giant ICBC bank, according to Wind Information.

Moutai is the strongest brand in the high-end baijiu market and will grow its share even as China’s drinking culture subsides, said Luo Hao, equity analyst with Global Capital Investment at China Asset Management.

He pointed to the company’s steady growth and returns for investors as reasons why he favors the stock.

Moutai expects it made about 97.7 billion yuan ($15.1 billion) in operating income last year, for growth of 10% amid the coronavirus pandemic. The company is set to release final 2020 results at the end of this month, according to Bernstein analysts.

Growing foreign ownership

Wind data showed that as of March 11, the liquor stock had the largest number of non-mainland institutions investing in it among A share stocks, with 101 firms holding 7.7% of the total market share. That’s up from only a handful of firms earlier this year, the database showed.

Moutai and another baijiu manufacturer, Wuliangye, are the top two members of MSCI’s China A index, which is tracked by many foreign funds wanting to invest in China.

“We have a positive long-term view on the China Ultra Premium Baijiu. We expect superior industry value growth to be driven by increasing incomes which will continue driving affordability led up-trading,” Bernstein analysts said in a note this month.

While they prefer Wuliangye to Moutai due to supply chain and governance concerns, the Bernstein analysts still have a “buy” rating on Moutai and a price target of 2,500 yuan a share. That’s up more than 20% from Moutai’s Friday closing price of 2,026 yuan per share.

— CNBC’s Michael Bloom contributed to this report.

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