Global stock market turmoil

Chinese retail investors pummelled by wild market

Investors at a brokerage house in Beijing on Friday, Jan 8.ST VIDEO: ESTHER TEO
An investor checking his smartphone at a securities brokerage house in Beijing on Friday. Chinese shares had their worst start in two decades, with sharp price falls triggering so-called circuit breakers twice last week.
An investor checking his smartphone at a securities brokerage house in Beijing on Friday.PHOTO: EPA

Many suffer losses as stock prices plunge, but some see opportunity to pick up bargain buys

As Chinese stocks went into a wild meltdown last week, racking up painful losses for retail investors such as Dr Li Jianing, the Jilin native said he had only one thought in mind: never again.

"China's stock market is one big casino," he told The Sunday Times. "If you pick the right stock, there's lots of money to be made, but I'm not confident of being able to do so any more. Once I regain my capital, I'm getting out of stocks for good."

Chinese shares had their worst start in two decades, with sharp price falls triggering so-called circuit breakers twice last week. The mechanism - suspended on Friday - halts trade once losses reach a threshold of 7 per cent. On Thursday, it breached that mark in just 29 minutes, making it the shortest trading day in Chinese history.

The tumult sent global markets diving, wiping more than US$2.3 trillion (S$3.3 trillion) off share values last week, according to the Financial Times.

The Dow and S&P 500 had their worst five-day starts in history, falling 6.2 per cent and 6 per cent respectively for the week.

 

Dr Li, 46, who started out as a passive investor, was enticed to enter the market more aggressively after China's market rout last summer.

VOLATILITY EXPECTED

The Chinese stock market is a casino. If you want to play, you also have to be willing to lose.

MR ZHANG JIANG, a civil servant from Inner Mongolia, on the nature of the Chinese stock market. He is confident the current bear market will soon be over. Global stock market turmoil

Sensing opportunities for bargain buys, he ploughed 400,000 yuan (S$87,000) - money meant to pay off his home mortgage - into stocks in the hopes of a quick profit. He has since lost about 60,000 yuan.

"Who knew that the market had not bottomed out yet and that it would still experience such volatility, with the circuit breakers triggered twice in just a few days," said Dr Li, a doctor from Changchun, northern Jilin's capital city.

"The situation now is very frightening, especially as the 400,000 yuan I invested is not a small sum. It's actually enough to buy an apartment," he added.

Chinese retail investors, who drive more than 80 per cent of market transactions, are still reeling from the pummelling dealt to them by the market, with many venting their anger and frustration online, some humorously.

One user on China's Twitter-like Sina Weibo, for instance, likened the market to a cheating boyfriend.

  • Losses in the first week of 2016

  • The Straits Times Index - 4.6%

    FTSE All-World index - 6.1% the worst start to a new year since 1994 when index was started

    Dow Jones index - 6.2% the worst ever kick-off to a year

    Germany's Dax 30 index - 6.3%

    Shanghai stock index - 10%

    Shenzhen stock index - 14%

"You keep on trusting him and believing that everything will turn out fine. But he disappoints and hurts you and breaks another new record every time," she wrote.

But while some investors blame the government for its poorly designed policies and constant interference, others are simply resigned to the boom and bust cycles of China's notoriously volatile market.

At a securities firm in Beijing's Dongzhimen district on Friday, a constant stream of mostly elderly investors continued making their trades, although their numbers had dwindled since the height of the market last year.

Madam Yang Jie, a 62-year-old retiree who makes daily trips to the brokerage, said the implementation of the circuit breaker, for instance, was ill-timed. She has about 80,000 yuan tied up in stocks.

 

"It was launched on Monday amid a weakening of the yuan and with overhanging concerns over the health of the global economy. There were also concerns that a share sale ban would soon be lifted. Of course, it would have caused some nervousness," she told The Sunday Times. "If anything, it should have been launched during a bull market, when shares are on the uptrend," she added.

 

One investor, who declined to be named, put the blame for the recent market turbulence squarely on the government.

"Who knows why the market keeps falling? Only the government knows because it keeps meddling with the market and changing its policies. Who can say what its true agenda is?" he added.

But others were more sanguine about the market and, in turn, their investment prospects.

Beijing-based investor Ren Yushi, 42, told The Sunday Times that the recent market volatility does not bother him much. He is currently still enjoying a 20 per cent profit.

"I'm a rational investor. I don't just look at the index, but at specific stocks and industries. Volatility is only normal; you can't expect a steady market all the time," the finance teacher said.

"In fact, a V-shaped recovery is even more scary. I won't quit stocks because no investment comes without risk. As long as you have the brains, there's always money to be made; it's just a matter of how little or how much," Mr Ren added.

Retiree Wang Zhengfa, 55, who was also at the Beijing brokerage on Friday, said he made a trip there because he was looking for bargains, especially in the real estate sector.

"There are always opportunities, whether in an up or down market. I buy stocks only when there is volatility," he said, adding that the 100,000 yuan he now has in stocks is the profit he earned after he cashed out and recouped his capital last year.

"I've been investing for more than 10 years so this experience has been paid for - from all the losses I made in the past," Mr Wang added.

Mr Zhang Jiang, a civil servant from Inner Mongolia, said he remains confident that China's bear market will soon be over as other investment alternatives, such as property, are in the doldrums.

"But the Chinese stock market is a casino. If you want to play, you also have to be willing to lose."

Additional reporting by Lina Miao.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 10, 2016, with the headline 'Chinese retail investors pummelled by wild market'. Print Edition | Subscribe