Retail Investor Bearishness in China Could Point to a Bottom in Stocks

By Walter Kurtz, Sober Look

China’s retail investors have lost all confidence in the nation’s stock market. In spite of improving economic fundamentals (see discussion), the market continues to plunge. Unlike many other emerging markets, China’s domestic stock market trading is dominated by retail investors. And many feel they have been duped, as the market hits new lows.

JPMorgan: – Of the households with stock market investments, 77% had not made a profit. The stock market has been the worst performing asset class over the last 5 years from various investment instruments available to the retail investor. If a retail investor put Rmb100 into the CSI300 5 years ago and left it, it would only be worth roughly Rmb 47 today…

China’s brokers have spent the last few years hyping the market, with a positive projections each new year. And each year retail investors have been disappointed. Now some are waiting for the government to effectively “bail out” the equity market before they would feel comfortable getting in.

WSJ: – “Local retail investors have lost faith on the stock market over the past three years. How can we expect investors to rush into a market where all expectations for a bottom, say the 3000 and the 2000 level, have proven to be wrong?” said Amy Lin, analyst at Capital Securities.

“The market is likely to stay weak until the government launches significant market-friendly measures, such as more stock buybacks of listed companies and another cut in banks’ reserve requirement ratio,” she said.

Many of China’s retail investors simply left the stock market altogether, preferring property and gold instead.

FT: – The domestic Chinese investors who dominate trading in Shanghai have had plenty of bad news to weigh up over the past couple of years. China’s economy has slowed for seven straight quarters and is on track to record its lowest annual rate of growth for a decade this year. There are concerns, too, that the political paralysis surrounding the country’s once-a-decade leadership transition has delayed needed reforms.

Indeed, many Chinese investors have simply given up on equities and moved to other investments such as property, gold or high-yield wealth management products.

The percentage of dormant brokerage accounts has been rising.

Source: JPMorgan

In a market with a more diversified investor pool, one would see this retail capitulation as a bullish sign. But there are very few active institutional players in China’s domestic market (although the government has been trying to change that by increasing foreign investment quotas.) For now it will take either retail investors coming back or a government action to turn it around. And given the change of the guard in China’s leadership, it may take them some time to organize a decisive action. For institutions who do have access to China’s domestic market however, this may be a good time to start testing the waters.

Shanghai Stock Exchange Composite Index (source: Yahoo Finance)

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Sober Look

Sober Look

Sober Look was founded by Walter Kurtz, a New York based hedge fund manager and credit markets specialist.

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