Chinese Stock Market Manipulation

Contributed by: Angela Palacios, CFP® Angela Palacios

Since last summer the Chinese government has played a very active role in manipulating their own stock market. Which markets are affected can be very confusing as there are many different exchanges and types of shares that can be purchased.

Chinese Equity Markets: A Tutorial

The Shanghai exchange houses the A share stock market. These are the shares of Chinese companies that are available mostly to domestic Chinese investors (who in most cases are prohibited to invest outside of this market) and institutional investors granted special permission by the Chinese government, denominated in their local currency, the Renminbi. This currency is no longer pegged to just the U.S. Dollar but rather to a basket of currencies. See my colleague, Nick Boguth’s blog regarding the state of China’s Currency.

In contrast, the Hong Kong exchange houses the H share market which is shares of Chinese companies available to investors outside China and can be freely traded by anyone. H shares trade in Hong Kong dollars. In contrast to mainland China, Hong Kong dollars are still pegged to the U.S. Dollar.

B shares, while lesser known than A & H shares, are also available and these are Chinese companies with a face value in Renminbi, but trading in U.S. Dollars on the Shanghai exchange. These are available to foreign investors as well as Chinese investors who have foreign currency accounts.

There has been a huge difference in company prices that trade on both A and H share exchanges and there is no channel to arbitrage this away. A shares ran up coming into the summer of 2015 causing a huge imbalance when compared to the H share market. This means investors in the A share portion of the market were paying far more for a company than investors in the H share market. On the flip side the A shares have declined much more sharply than the H share market as well.

The Pressure in China Picks up

China is nearing the end of incredible growth. It built up far too much capacity and credit. As the economic slowdown in China began to accelerate, volatility in the stock market started to pick up in the middle of 2015 spilling over into our markets here in the U.S. The Chinese government has had to step in to stem the bleeding created by A share sellers. 

A Timeline of Market Manipulation

The government became a buyer of shares on the weakest days and then took even further steps last July suspending the holders of 72% of A share stocks the ability to sell their stock for six months. Investors that held at least 5% of a company’s outstanding stock was simply no longer allowed to sell it. Communism at its best! 

In early January 2016 this ban on sales was set to expire and there was much worry that volatility would come back, which it did. At this point, January 4, 2016, the government put controversial breakers in place to halt trading in case of extreme selling on the A share market, disbanding them only four days later after the widespread panic this caused. They ended up suspending/halting trading twice in this short time. In contrast, H share markets were down also on these days but far less than the A share markets before the halt.

In place of the circuit breakers, China came up with a plan to restrict stock sales again by these large shareholders. At this point a stockholder who owns more than 5% of a company is required to sell shares only through private transactions to help avoid shocks to the market.

With so much intervention we are left wondering if a free market even exists over there and if there ever was one to begin with. Thankfully the selling pressure has slowed and markets both there and here have quieted down a bit. As always though, it will be interesting to watch how events and markets unfold the remainder of this year!

Angela Palacios, CFP® is the Portfolio Manager at Center for Financial Planning, Inc. Angela specializes in Investment and Macro economic research. She is a frequent contributor to Money Centered as well as investment updates at The Center.

“The ABCs of China’s Share Markets by Mark Mobius

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