10/08/2015 - 05:59

China’s burst bubble not total trouble

10/08/2015 - 05:59


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The extraordinary stock market events in China of recent weeks have stunned domestic investors, as the Beijing government opted for extreme measures to prevent a complete meltdown after the Shanghai A-shares index nose-dived by a third.

China has taken unprecedented measures against major stock market losses, with almost $US4 trillion in market value wiped out since mid-June.

Trading was temporarily suspended in half the country's listed companies.

China's biggest banks were ordered to provide the equivalent of $270 billion to buy shares, with an additional $680 billion earmarked should the need arise.

A temporary ban on sales by major shareholders was imposed, with 300 corporate bosses under direction to buy back their own companies' shares.

Chinese regulators have temporarily restricted short selling of stocks, freezing out day traders in an effort to stabilise the world's second-largest equity market.

Undoubtedly the manner in which Beijing encouraged a bubble in stock market speculation, only to panic by limiting the fallout when it burst, has done serious damage to China's reputation for sound financial governance.

However, in defence of Beijing, market manipulation has become almost standard operating procedure worldwide, with leading Western economies engaging in quantitative easing – aka printing money – through the banking system.

Even after the bursting of the speculative bubble, China's A-shares have stabilised at levels more than double just a year ago.

Losing momentum

Australian billionaire investor and founder of Platinum Asset Management, Kerr Neilson, told ABC Radio on July 27 that Chinese growth was much slower than most people believed.

When asked whether he believed the Chinese economy was growing at 7 per cent annually or at a slower rate, Mr Neilson replied: "Other measures suggest that it's growing more like 4 per cent or so.

"The reason the (Chinese) government is sticking to a high growth figure is a sort of confidence-boosting measure as far as we can see, and to some extent face saving."

Mr Neilson added that he was not overly worried about the Chinese stock market.

" ... because the amount of outstanding margin credit has halved and so you've had a fair clearing of the market."

Positive developments

Encouraging levels of growth has started to appear in Chengdu, Sichuan's provincial capital.

This area of western China appears to have started to benefit from the 'one belt, one road' (OBOR) initiative unveiled by Beijing in late 2013.

OBOR is designed to open up China's western provinces, transforming them into a viable export route for Chinese companies.

Operationally, OBOR is designed to increase regional ties and national cooperation by investing in infrastructure and economic development along two routes.

This includes the land-based 'silk road economic belt', which is analogous to the historical Silk Road that passed through Asia, the Middle East on to Europe, and the ocean- based "maritime silk road', which passes through the South China Sea, the South Pacific and the Indian Ocean.

Some Chinese steel manufacturers are beginning to receive orders related to OBOR, so its beneficial impact is already being felt and bodes well for future growth in China's western provinces.

Hukou reform

The Hukou system in China affects people's access to essential services such as hospitals, housing and education.

A person born out in a province only has the right to access such services free of charge within that province, but not elsewhere.

So there has been a cost associated with the strong trend toward provincial Chinese migrating to the city in recent years – they no longer have free

access to many services.

This is one of the reasons Chinese have been migrating to cities, so as to save much more of their earnings.

Disposable income among many city inhabitants is relatively low, as they have to pay for these services.

Over the past two years, the government has begun relaxing Hukou regulations, thereby allowing city migrants to access services once they've paid taxes in that city over the previous three years.

While slow acting, this deregulation will help increase disposable income over time and should become a positive for more consumer-driven growth.


The People's Bank of China has eased monetary policy four times over recent months.

In late June it responded to the sharp fall in the share market by cutting the one-year benchmark bank-lending rate by 25 basis points to 4.85 per cent.

In addition to easing interest rates, it has been reported that further economic stimulus includes China's State Council approving go-aheads for 400 infrastructure projects worth RMB 10 trillion, to be implemented over in the next two years.

The government has also announced removal of any tax liability if a property is sold after two years of ownership and a reduction in the minimum

deposit on a second property from 60 per cent to 40 per cent.

Market impact

The sharp fall in China's share market towards the end of the quarter is a good example of how quickly sentiment can turn around in speculatively driven markets.

Unfortunately the market for Australia's iron ore is set to remain challenging over the near term.

This is mainly due to the fact that the sector that uses the most steel in China is the property market, which is only just showing signs of stabilisation in larger cities, while activity in smaller cities remains weak.


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