Invest In China: Equity Markets

China’s economy may be growing at the rate of almost 10% a year but its domestic capital markets are in a dismal state, forcing the private sector to disproportionate reliance on foreign investment for capital (particularly hard currency). Its domestic bond market is underdeveloped, its banks are saddled with bad debts, and both the Shanghai and Shenzhen stock markets have performed poorly in recent years.

China’s stock exchanges (excluding Hong Kong’s) were originally created with the idea of raising funds for inefficient, poorly performing state-owned entities (SOEs) that the government for political reasons did not wish to abandon. In this way the stock exchanges could shoulder the burden previously borne by domestic banks (who would extend SOE loans that were often never repaid). Because of this history, we now see listings dominated by inefficient SOEs that free float no more than one-third of issued shares, thus ensuring continued government control. It also ensures that private shareholders have no say in management, leaving SOEs with fewer incentives to reform. Foreign investors are hampered by the bifurcation of shares into two types (leaving about two-thirds of shares off-limits to foreign investment) and rigid investment quotas that China imposes on overseas capital.

China is caught between two unpalatable alternatives – if it offers up its stake in the SOEs, it cedes control of to private interests and faces the possibility that those who cannot market their shares will fail (since a government bail-out would defeat the purpose of listing in the first place). This would increase already high unemployment rates and lead to unpredictable political consequences. On the other hand, as long as it maintains control of the SOEs and uses the equity markets to fund them, share prices are likely to remain anemic, depriving China’s private sector of the capital in needs to thrive at home and invest overseas. Foreign investors are hoping that China will soon take decisive action to resolve this dilemma.

Despite these difficulties, China’s equity markets have recently attracted a surprising amount of interest from institutional investors abroad who see buying opportunities in low share prices and are persuaded by government promises of reform. China has raised some overseas investment quotas recently (they are specific to each investor), and there is talk in the air of unifying the share market to allow foreign investors greater access. Many analysts predict a brisker pace of reform as soon as China’s banking sector is opened up to foreign competition in 2007 in response to China’s WTO commitments.

David Carnes
http://www.articlesbase.com/business-articles/invest-in-china-equity-markets-64109.html