SHANGHAI — China’s stock markets continued to fall from Tuesday’s 14-month low in Wednesday trading, amid worries about the nation's slowing economy — as official figures showed further falls in industrial profits. But Chinese state media again defended China's currency, the yuan, saying there was no need for any sustained depreciation. Chinese media also continued criticism of billionaire investor George Soros, who said last week he did not have confidence in Asian currencies or China’s economy.
The CSI 300 Index of leading stock was down 0.34 percent, following a 6 percent fall Tuesday. Other indexes fell further: the main Shanghai Composite was down 0.52 percent by mid-afternoon, while the Shenzhen Composite dropped 0.83 percent.
Various analysts pinned recent declines to worries about China's economy, which grew 6.9 percent in 2015, and 6.8 percent in the final quarter of last year, its slowest rate in six years. Wednesday’s falls also followed official reports that profits at major industrial firms fell 4.7 percent year-on-year in December, compared to November’s 1.4-percent fall, according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). The survey of companies with revenues of more than 20 million yuan (around $3.1 million) showed a year-on-year fall of 2.3 percent to around 6.4 trillion yuan.
Analysts also said that stock markets, already short of liquidity ahead of Chinese New Year in early February, were depressed by hints that Chinese authorities were not about to cut the reserve requirement ratio for banks. Many economists have predicted such cuts, which would make it easier for banks to lend more money to businesses and thus stimulate the economy. But some reports said recently that China’s central bank, the People's Bank of China (PBOC) was avoiding taking the step for fear of further damaging value of the yuan, which has fallen more than 5 percent since last August. Instead, the PBOC is reported to have focused on pumping money into the interbank markets through repurchase agreements.
Chinese state media on Wednesday again sought to downplay speculation that the currency would fall further. An editorial in the official China Daily newspaper repeated the government’s mantra that there is “no basis for the RMB [yuan] to devalue over the long term as the Chinese economy remains robust.” Chinese officials have said repeatedly that the country does not need to cut the value of the yuan to stimulate exports, which have slumped, saying instead that they will focus on retooling the domestic economy. China Daily said the recent slowdown in growth was “within the expectations of decision-makers, even though it seems to have surprised some.”
Chinese media maintained their criticisms of George Soros, the veteran billionaire investor, who said during last week’s World Economic Forum in Davos that China's economy could face a “hard landing,” and said he was not confident in Asian currencies. The official Global Times on Wednesday published an article saying that Soros and other “Western pundits ... want China to fail.” It accused them of a lack of gratitude for China’s growth, which it said had kept the global economy “staggering along” over recent years.
The article follows a number of official media articles that have accused Soros, who has previously invested in Chinese companies, of “declaring war on China,” and warned that what they called “reckless speculation and vicious shorting” were doomed to fail and could bring “severe legal consequences” for those involved.
The Chinese yuan, which fell more than 1 percent against the dollar in the first week of January, has since rebounded following significant official intervention to boost its value. However, it has fallen back in offshore trading in Hong Kong this week. Chinese experts — and IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde, also speaking at Davos last week — have said China’s attempts to measure the value of the yuan against a basket of currencies, including the Euro and Japanese yen (against which it has appreciated), should be taken seriously. But market doubts remain — with reports of concerted short selling and worries about continuing outflows of capital from China, particularly since the U.S. Federal Reserve raised interest rates for the first time in nearly a decade in December.
Chinese financial commentator Ye Tan, also quoted by the Xinhua news agency, said the “outcome of the battle over the yuan exchange rate depends on how much "policy ammunition" and "policy determination" the Chinese authorities actually have. And he said “compared with tackling the challenges posed by overseas shorters, it's more important for the government to restore public confidence through more effective reform measures and consolidating the country's economic foundation.”
The Chinese government has insisted that worries about slowing growth will not derail further market oriented economic reforms, which many foreign investors say are long overdue. And state media on Wednesday quoted President Xi Jinping as telling a top-level economic meeting that the country would push ahead with “supply side reform,” aimed at making the economy more market-driven.
However, reports on the meeting gave only limited coverage to the participation of China’s Premier Li Keqiang, who is officially in charge of day-to-day economic policy — in what some commentators said was a further sign that the leading role in economic decision-making is now being taken by Xi. Some analysts have argued that Xi is more focused on restoring communist orthodoxy than economic opening — which has fuelled the worries of investors who have already been puzzled by the direction of policy on key issues such as the yuan and the stock market over the past year.
Observers said such concerns were unlikely to be assuaged by the sudden announcement that NBS head Wang Baoan had been placed under investigation, apparently as part of China's ongoing anti-corruption campaign, on Tuesday evening. Only last week, Wang announced China’s official GDP data for 2015, and his detention reportedly came soon after he gave a news briefing expressing confidence in China’s economy.
Some recent data has suggested signs of improvements in manufacturing, Bloomberg reported earlier this week. And some economists have pinned their hopes on further infrastructure spending by the government to boost the economy; the government of Shanghai, China's financial capital, announced this week that it would spend $127 billion on major projects in 2016.
But the latest industrial profit data is a reminder of continuing challenges ahead — and though some analysts said the stock market has more or less hit "rock bottom" this week, others believe it could still fall. Veteran Shanghai-based economist Andy Xie told International Business Times recently that the market boom of last year, which took it from just over 2,000 points to more than 5,000 points in less than 12 months, was a bubble and not based on economic fundamentals, and he predicted it could eventually return to its starting point before the boom.