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China’s stocks keep tanking despite support measures

A man watches a board showing stock prices at a brokerage office in BeijingA man watches a board showing stock prices at a brokerage office in Beijing
A man watches a board showing stock prices at a brokerage office in Beijing, China, on July 1, 2015. Photograph by Kim Kyung Hoon — Reuters

Chinese stocks kept on tanking Tuesday, taking no comfort from a slew of support measures unleashed by Beijing in recent days, and unnerved by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s failure to mention the market chaos in a statement on the economy.

Before the market opened, Li said in comments posted on a government website that China had the confidence and ability to deal with challenges faced by its economy, but had nothing to say on the three-week plunge that has knocked around 30% off Chinese shares since mid-June.

After a brief pause in the slide on Monday, the CSI300 index of the largest listed companies in Shanghai and Shenzhen ended down 1.8% on Tuesday, while the Shanghai Composite Index lost 1.3%.

Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble

The ChiNext growth board, home to some of China’s giddiest small-cap valuations, fell 5.1%.

Qi Yifeng, analyst at consultancy CEBM, said government measures were not strong enough to reverse the downtrend, especially as it was a liquidity issue for many who had borrowed to buy shares and were now forced to sell to meet margin calls.

“It’s just a matter of whether it will fall more slowly, or continue to slump in freefall,” he said.

Exchange data shows the balance of outstanding margin loans has fallen more slowly than the market drop and that leveraging has consequently increased to a record proportion of the market, creating a vicious cycle of pressure to sell.

Global investors have grown increasingly concerned that a full-blown crash could destabilize the world’s second-biggest economy.

Commodities markets are also taking fright at what the slump says about the underlying economy, with prices of copper, coal, natural gas and iron ore all plunging. Copper futures hit their lowest level since 2009 in overnight trade.

China accounts for around 40% of global copper demand.

 

In an attempt to arrest the sell-off, China has arranged a curb on new share issues and orchestrated brokerages and fund managers to promise to buy at least 120 billion yuan ($19 billion) of stocks, helped by a state-backed margin finance company, which in turn has a direct liquidity line from the central bank.

The official Shanghai Securities News reported that China’s major insurance firms ploughed tens of billions of yuan into blue-chip exchange-traded funds (ETF) and large caps on Monday.

China Life Insurance Co Ltd bought a net 10 billion yuan in index funds, while China Pacific Insurance Group and other insurers each invested more than 1 billion yuan, the newspaper said.

That helped the indexes rise just over 2% on Monday, but the relief was short-lived.

Unlike other major stock markets, which are dominated by professional money managers, retail investors account for around 85% of trade in China’s. That exacerbates volatility.

“Where is the promised 120 billion yuan?” asked one retail investor from Hangzhou, who gave his surname as Liu. “It’s all going to blue chips. Don’t they know that retail investors are all trapped in the small caps? My stocks opened up 10% but closed down the (10%) limit!”

 

Traders are increasingly nervous about the unusually large number of Chinese companies asking for their shares to be suspended from trading, fearing that many of them are looking for excuses to duck out of the turmoil.

About a quarter of the roughly 2,800 companies listed in Shanghai and Shenzhen had filed for a trading halt by the close on Monday, and on Tuesday the Securities Times said another 200 announced a suspension.

The plunge in China’s previously booming stock markets, which had more than doubled in the year to mid-June, is a major headache for President Xi Jinping and China’s top leaders, who are already struggling to avert a sharper economic slowdown.

Beijing’s interventionist response has also raised questions about its ability to enact the market liberalization steps that are a centerpiece of its economic reform agenda.

A surprise interest-rate cut by the central bank at the end of June, relaxations in margin trading and other “stability measures” did little to calm investors.

Underlining scepticism beyond mainland China about the sustainability of the new measures, Hong Kong listed shares of Chinese brokerages plunged on Monday.

In addition, 28 companies suspended their previously approved IPO plans.