So when Mr. van Agtmael says he sees an underappreciated investment opportunity, he is worth listening to. When he visited China last year, one manufacturing executive after another complained to him about American competition, “something I had never heard in 40 years in Asia,” he says.
Mr. van Agtmael points out that labor costs in China have been rising roughly 15% annually while stagnating in the U.S. Meanwhile, oceans of cheap oil and natural gas are flowing from American shale.
The U.S. is well ahead of China in cellphone infrastructure, he says; it also is advancing faster in three-dimensional printing and the use of robots in factories. At least 200 companies have relocated plants from offshore to U.S. locations, estimates Mr. van Agtmael.
“A decade ago, nine out of 10 companies would tell you they were thinking about building their next plant in China,” he says. “Today it’s more like three out of 10, and maybe five out of that 10, say they want to build in the U.S.”