Chinese stocks rise, paring world's worst quarterly performance

The Chinese government took unprecedented measures to shore up stocks, including banning major shareholders from selling and curbing index futures trading. (AFP)

The Chinese government took unprecedented measures to shore up stocks, including banning major shareholders from selling and curbing index futures trading. (AFP)

The Shanghai Composite Index has tumbled by 29% since the end of June, the biggest slump among benchmark global gauges. The measure rose by 0.5% to 3 052.78 at Wednesday’s close on turnover 55% below the 30-day average. Automakers led gains after the government cut a tax on vehicle purchases. China’s financial markets will be shut from Thursday for weeklong National Day holidays.

The value of shares traded on mainland bourses plunged by 87% from the June record as the equity boom turned to bust and the government took unprecedented measures to shore up stocks, including banning major shareholders from selling and curbing index futures trading. Leveraged wagers, which helped fuel gains in the first half of the year, have tumbled by 60% since the peak, while the government has wiped out nearly 70% of unregulated margin lending. President Xi Jinping said last week that equities had entered a phase of “self-recovery”, signalling that policymakers would pare back support as volatility subsided.

“The government’s clampdown on non-compliant margin financing has hit the Chinese equity markets hard,” said Bernard Aw, a strategist at IG Asia Pte in Singapore. “We however may see some upside potential in the fourth quarter, as much of non-compliant margin trading accounts have been cleared. Further weakness in the Chinese economy may see investors keeping to the sidelines.”

Automakers rally
Hong Kong’s Hang Seng China Enterprises Index rose by 1.9%, paring its losses this quarter to 28%. The Hang Seng Index added 1.4%, trimming its three-month decline to 21%.

Stocks rebounded on Wednesday as the government took measures to support the auto industry and the property market. China cut the purchase tax on vehicles with engines 1.6 litres or smaller by half to 5%, effective from October 1 through to the end of next year, according to the State Council. SAIC Motor, China’s largest carmaker, rose by 4% in Shanghai. Great Wall Motor and Chongqing Changan Automobile were up by 10%.

After the market close, the government announced that it had cut the minimum down payment requirement for first-time homebuyers. The reduction to 25% applies to people buying homes in cities that don’t have home-purchase restrictions, the People’s Bank of China said on its website. The previous down payment requirement was 30%.

PMI data
Gauges of technology, material and energy companies in the CSI 300 Index slumped by at least 34% this quarter for the worst performances among 10 industry groups. Hundsun Technologies, which has a financial investment platform known as HOMS that allows trust firms and online lenders to provide leveraged trading facilities to clients, plunged by 61%. China Coal Energy fell by 48%. Yunnan Copper was down by 60%.

Chinese shares remain expensive relative to global stocks after the rout. Equities on mainland bourses traded at a median 49 times reported earnings, the highest among the world’s 10 largest markets and almost three times the multiple of 18 for the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index. The Shanghai index, where low-priced banks have some of the biggest weightings, is valued at 15.

The statistics bureau is scheduled to release an official manufacturing index for September on Thursday. The reading will probably be 49.7, unchanged from a month earlier, according to the median estimate of economists. A reading below 50 indicates contraction. Recent data have been week, with a preliminary factory gauge falling to the lowest level since the global financial crisis and industrial profits slumping the most in at least four years.

Weaker growth
While HSBC Holdings said last week that further losses by Chinese shares were limited after leveraged traders cut more than $200-billion of positions, there were few signs that individual investors were returning to stocks.

The number of new investors has tumbled by more than 80% from the peak in late May. The richest traders have been quickest to bail out of the market. The number of accounts holding shares worth more than 10-million yuan ($1.6-million) almost halved in the past three months, the biggest decline among four categories of investor wealth tracked by the nation’s clearing agency.

A string of weak economic data is increasing concern about the outlook for corporate earnings, while Xi’s plan to overhaul the country’s $16-trillion state-run sector unveiled this month failed to reignite investor interest. Barclays cut its forecast for the nation’s growth next year to 6% from 6.6%.

Margin debt
Another concern for investors is what happens when the state starts to step back and how long curbs on trading will remain. China’s securities regulator said on August 14 that the government agency tasked with supporting share prices will reduce purchases as volatility falls. Restrictions on trading futures and a probe into “malicious” short-selling are making it almost impossible for investors to hedge positions. State funds have spent $246-billion purchasing equities in the three months through August, according to Goldman Sachs Group.

Central bank governor Zhou Xiaochuan said this month that intervention in the equity market helped reduce the risk of the rout spilling over into the broader economy and bring an end to the plunge closer. While the Shanghai Composite is only 3.8% above its August 26 low, declines of more than 5% – which occurred almost daily during the depths of the rout – have been absent in the past month.

“Over the past few months, the market has seen lots of negative factors such as margin-debt deleveraging, the economic slowdown, and we’ve seen a weak performance for stocks,” said Wu Kan, a Shanghai-based fund manager at JK Life Insurance. “Going forward, given most of these factors have been priced in.”

Margin traders cut holdings of shares purchased with borrowed money for a fifth day on Tuesday, with the outstanding balance of margin debt in Shanghai falling to a nine-month low of 573.4-billion yuan. The nation had cleared up 69% of non-compliant margin lending accounts as of September 23, the securities regulator said at a briefing last week. – Bloomberg, with assistance from Amy Li in Shanghai and Kyoungwha Kim in Hong Kong.

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