SHANGHAI -- China’s spectacular stock market boom, which has seen the market double in value in the past six months, hitting seven-year highs, continues to divide opinion.
On Monday the Shanghai Composite Index continued its upward trend, closing up 0.86 percent. And with the market having risen 26 percent in a single week last month -- along with flat property prices and few other investment opportunities -- ordinary Chinese citizens have poured money into stocks and shares. Reports say the number of stock-trading accounts rose over 400 percent in the first quarter of the year, to 7.95 million. Over the weekend pictures of a middle-aged woman apparently entering a stock brokerage with a million yuan (around US$161,000) in cash to open an account went viral on China’s Internet.
There was further excitement in some Chinese media on Monday, after legendary investor Warren Buffett praised the country’s economy -- saying China’s people had “found a way to unlock their potential” -- and suggested that China’s main A-share markets were likely to "continue to perform well in the next two or three years."
Some media did note that Buffet had added that since China’s investment environment is “relatively young, it might be vulnerable to speculative influences," however. And the official People’s Daily newspaper, seen as the mouthpiece of Chinese leadership, went further: in a commentary entitled "Don’t forget the risks in a bull market," it urged investors to exercise “cool calculation” in the midst of what it described as a “surging wave” of “red-hot enthusiasm,” and warned of the dangers of “the blind pursuit of profit.”
A Shanghai-based news website said it was rare for the People’s Daily to use the word “risk” regarding the markets -- and analysts suggested its comments reflected concerns about potential volatility resulting from so many new investors pouring into China’s stock market, which has crashed spectacularly in the past.
The People’s Daily agreed that the stock market boom was "a golden moment to earn money," but warned investors of the dangers of believing popular stories about “miracles,” and rumors that “whatever you buy you’ll make money,” and claims of “you just have to go into the market to pick up cash.” It said that despite recent warnings from China’s regulators -- including one last week urging citizens not to “blindly” buy stocks -- some people seemed unconcerned, believing that “this is a once-in-a-lifetime bull market, and the upward trend won’t change – if you worry you’ll just be wasting a good opportunity.”
Such attitudes, the paper said, represented a “distorted logic.” It stressed that “stocks are always a high return, high risk investment,” and that even a bull market would have ups and downs. It said past experience showed that “only a minority of people made money on the stock markets in the long term” -- and noted that some stocks had already fallen back 30 percent or more in recent weeks, after rising “too fast.” Adding that a bull market was likely to see abuses and infringements of rules, and market manipulation, the commentary called on citizens to invest “rationally and realistically,” if they wanted to become “long-term winners.”
The comments may be the latest sign of what some observers have described as China’s mixed feelings about the current stock market boom -- on the one hand, analysts say, they have “opened the spigots,” by boosting liquidity and allowing ordinary citizens to open multiple trading accounts, rather than just one as in the past. On the other they have sought to rein in leveraged margin trading -- in which citizens borrow money from brokerages to invest in the market -- fearing that too many new investors could add to market volatility, and worry about the potential of a crash.
The ambivalence was reflected by the official Global Times (a populist tabloid also published by the People’s Daily), which praised Warren Buffett’s optimism about China’s economy in a commentary on Monday -- and criticized other more “negative voices” for suggesting that China’s economy might become “stranded by the middle income trap in the future.” It said such a theory “lacks credibility,” and that the nation’s economy remained on an “upward trajectory.”
However, the Global Times, in its news pages, also quoted venture capitalist Cha Li as saying that “value investing requires patience” -- and pointed out that Warren Buffett often held his shares for many years, adding, “In China few investors would want to hold shares of a company for more than two or three years.” Another well-known investor, Jim Rogers, told the paper that while he had recently bought some Chinese shares, and was likely to continue to do so, “a bubble may be developing.”
In a reminder of what some say is a disconnect between the current bull market and China’s real economy, where growth slowed in the first quarter to 7 percent, a six-year low, Hu Shuli, editor of influential financial magazine Caixin, wrote in a recent editorial that the stock market “will be hard pressed” to revive the slowing economy.
“If the bull run is a result of fund flows, rather than market fundamentals, the going will be choppy,” she wrote, noting that “margin trading and short selling have exceeded 1.7 trillion yuan (HK$2.1 trillion), [and] stock collateral loans amount to 700 billion yuan.” Hu also suggested that the booming stock market would reduce liquidity and cash-flow into new small businesses, encourage listed companies to waste their funds on speculation and could hinder reform efforts to open up China’s capital account.
She said the market needed “radical reforms,” including of its listing and regulatory systems, and the country should focus on liberalizing interest rates, and other financial and tax reforms.
Some analysts have said China should promote spending on consumer goods by cutting taxes and welfare payments rather than allowing money to pour into the stock market. Hu Shuli added that since the bull run, "consumption has been falling, not rising.”