China's Stock Market Falls Back Through History

2013-07-09
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A concerned investor looks at share prices (marked green for falling) at a stock brokerage house in Haikou, Hainan, on July 3, 2013.
A concerned investor looks at share prices (marked green for falling) at a stock brokerage house in Haikou, Hainan, on July 3, 2013.
ImagineChina

China's stock market, once beloved of an army of dedicated and often elderly retail investors wielding stock tips and cell phones, has taken a series of tumbles in recent weeks, which some analysts see as a psychological warning of deeper fears for the overall economy.

On the back of economic reforms aimed at boosting high-end manufacturing and gloomy figures from heavy industries like shipbuilding, the CSI 300, which is designed to reflect the performance of the Shanghai and Shenzhen stock exchanges, fell by more than three percent this week.

In addition, the benchmark Shanghai Composite Index, which tracks shares on the larger of China's two exchanges, on Monday briefly danced around the 1,949 mark, a number that matches the symbolic date of the founding of the People's Republic of China by Mao Zedong in 1949.

Known as "liberation," or "nation-founding," the 1,949-point mark is a psychologically important milestone on the market's long march south, bound up as it is with the prestige of the ruling Chinese Communist Party, and in particular, its perceived ability to manage the national economy amid a global recession.

According to top Beijing economist Wen Yuankai, the market will remain firmly bearish in the absence of any genuine economic restructuring.

"Those in charge of it have no stomach for genuine reforms, and those reforms they have put in place have been just pussyfooting around," he said. "They have no real effect."

New reforms announced this week aim to force banks to support the government's attempts at rebalancing the economy, by cutting off the supply of cheap debt to aging industries plagued by overcapacity and extravagant investment.

However, borrowing is unlikely to get any cheaper amid soaring annual consumer inflation figures for June, as the central bank is unlikely to wish to fuel inflation any further.

Liberation 'bottom'

Prominent stock commentator Xu Caiyuan told RFA's Mandarin Service that nobody expects the "1949 liberation bottom" to hold for long.

"There is a likelihood that we will go through the liberation barrier again in the short term," Xu said on Tuesday.

"Chinese shares could find a bottom even below the liberation barrier in the short term."

But he said he was predicting a rebound to 2,000, even 3,000, in the "mid to long term."

Deeper problems

While many analysts on popular stock-picking websites appeared to agree with Xu on Tuesday, Wen said the market's weakness was an indicator of far deeper problems to come in the Chinese economy, however.

"There are no words to describe the Chinese stock market at the moment," he said.

"If things carry on this way in the long term, it's not just the stock-market that will be affected, but the whole of the Chinese economy and development could run into serious trouble," Wen warned.

Below the "nation-founding" barrier is another psychological line, drawn from a period of Chinese history remembered with a sense of huge national humiliation, when a weak Qing Dynasty signed over huge chunks of territory to foreign colonial powers after losing a battle to keep opium out of China.

This 1,840 barrier has been dubbed the "Opium Wars" bottom after the date of a key defeat for China.

"Not only is it likely that Chinese stocks will fall through the liberation barrier; they are also likely to break the Opium Wars bottom at 1,840," Wen said.

Economists have hit out in recent interviews with RFA at the ability of the new leadership under President Xi Jinping to steward the economy through the hard times.

While the government under premier Li Keqiang has been trying to wean the economy off government-funded stimulus programs, infrastructure spending, and property development, many of its measures have been poorly conceived and implemented, they say.

Reported by Wen Jian for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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