Wednesday, July 08, 2015

China's crash continues

China’s stock rout spread to the country’s commodities markets as investors rushed to raise cash.

Everything from silver to sugar to eggs tumbled with the Shanghai Composite Index, which crashed to a three-month low on Wednesday. Government measures to stabilize equities are failing to stop a stock market collapse.

“People are selling everything in sight to get their hands on cash,” Liu Xu, a trader at private asset-management company Guoyun Investment Co. in Beijing, said by phone. “Some need to cover their margin calls in the stock market, while others are gripped by fear that the Chinese economy will be affected by this crisis.”

Metals including nickel and silver on the Shanghai Futures Exchange fell to their daily limits, while rubber entered a bear market. The volume of copper traded was almost six times the three-month average. Steel rebar and iron ore, as well as eggs, sugar and soybean meal dropped to the lowest level allowed by their exchanges.

“Agricultural products in my view are collateral damage in this selloff,” said Liang Ruian, a fund manager at Shanghai-based Jianfeng Asset Management Co. “Pigs are still going to eat, so what does this stock market stampede have to do with soybean meal?”

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SHANGHAI — Stock prices in mainland China fell sharply again on Wednesday, continuing a decline that began last month despite another series of government measures meant to restore confidence and stabilize a market that has grown increasingly turbulent.

Just days after Beijing introduced a number of bold measures to prop up share prices, including a pledge by some of the country’s largest brokerage houses to create a $19.4 billion stabilization fund, regulators announced new initiatives early Wednesday, including an easing of rules to allow insurers to invest more money in stocks and the creation of a fund to buy up shares in small and midsize companies.

Still, China’s biggest exchanges were battered. The main Shanghai index plunged 5.9 percent Wednesday, and the Shenzhen index fell 2.5 percent. The Shanghai index is down 32 percent and the Shenzhen is off 40 percent from the highs reached in mid-June.

In Hong Kong, which had escaped much of the mainland market’s rout, the Hang Seng index fell 5.8 percent.

The sell-off has also spread to other parts of the Asia-Pacific region. In Japan, the Nikkei 225-stock average dropped 3.1 percent, Australian stocks were down 2 percent and South Korean shares fell 1.2 percent.

Fear is gripping the markets after a phenomenal bull run in which mainland China’s major stock indexes doubled, tripled and even quintupled over the last few years. Sentiment has turned down too sharply and investors have lost confidence, analysts said, and because buying shares with borrowed money was a critical part of the increase in prices, there is now pressure to sell.

“China’s stock market remains under stress, as investor confidence will take some time to recover,” Li Wei, the China economist at the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, wrote in a report to investors.

Panic selling may also be extending the downturn because each day trading is suspended for hundreds of stocks after they drop by 10 percent, under exchange rules. Some companies are even asking that their shares be temporarily suspended, hoping to ride out the downturn.

Since late June, on almost every trading day, there have been more than 900 stock trading suspensions, according to Xinhua, China’s official news agency. On Tuesday and Wednesday, 900 to 1,700 stocks were suspended from trading. That means that among the approximately 3,000 listed companies on the two major exchanges, up to half may have been suspended during the first two days of the week.

“This is wrong,” said Francis Cheung, the head of China and Hong Kong strategy at CLSA, the brokerage firm. “It just delays the correction. So it delays the downturn.”

The Chinese authorities have been moving swiftly, apparently worried about the potential impact the sell-off could have on the financial markets and on a broader economy that is relatively weak. Although experts say they doubt there could be systemic damage, banks and brokerage firms could be threatened because of the huge amount of margin trading, or borrowing to purchase stocks.

By some estimates, margin trading may have amounted to as much as 3.4 trillion renminbi, or nearly $550 billion. And because some of the borrowing probably took place in the shadow banking sector, no one is quite clear how big it was.

The bubble seems to be bursting on a stock market run that began last summer. In a rally that began roughly a year before the market’s high point on June 12, the Shanghai index jumped 157 percent. The Shenzhen index rose even more during that period, rising about 208 percent. A smaller stock market in Shenzhen called the ChiNext, geared toward technology companies and start-ups, began its own bull run much earlier, in late 2012, and soared about 540 percent before the markets began to falter several weeks ago.

Based on company earnings, the prices of many Chinese stocks began looking incredibly expensive, trading at far higher prices than could be found in Hong Kong or the United States, worrying analysts and investors.

“It’s gone up too fast, and it’s too much borrowed money,” said Wendy Liu, an analyst at Nomura Securities in Hong Kong. “A lot of first-time equity buyers were too excited and didn’t know how to temper their excitement.”

Even after the big sell-offs, though, stock prices in China are still considerably higher than they were a year ago. The Shanghai composite is still up 74 percent from mid-2014, and the Shenzhen composite is up 84 percent since then.

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