China's stock-trading students see life lessons in market slide

Students looking at stock information on their laptops in a Beijing dormitory in 2007.
Students looking at stock information on their laptops in a Beijing dormitory in 2007.PHOTO: REUTERS

HONG KONG (REUTERS) - A wild plunge in China's stock market over the past month has burned millions of retail investors, but 22-year-old student Zhu Qimeng prefers to view any losses as a valuable part of his education for a career in finance.

Beijing policymakers have been rattled by a selling frenzy that has sent stocks 30 per cent lower in the past three weeks, unveiling an extraordinary series of support measures over recent days to try to stem the decline.

But Zhu, one of a growing number of students who have ploughed money into the markets in the hope the experience will help them secure a lucrative job in the industry, is phlegmatic.

"Win or lose is not my primary concern as I'm focused on developing my skills in a constantly changing market to prepare for real work," said Zhu, a mainland Chinese studying economics at Baptist University in Hong Kong. "Breaking even is enough for me."

Unlike in the United States or Europe, China's stock markets are dominated not by financial institutions but by ordinary investors, who account for around 80 per cent of trading and whose money drove a boom that saw prices more than double over the year to mid-June.

Guo Ziyu, 20, opened a stock trading account on June 15 - just when the market started to tumble - after he returned to China from the United States, where he studies statistics.

His parents loaned him 50,000 yuan (S$10,911) to open an account for study purposes and he has so far lost 6,500 yuan, which he says "is much less serious" than some of his peers.

Southern Metropolis Daily, a respected newspaper in southern China, said late last month that in a survey of 560 college students in Huizhou city, Guangdong province, 18 per cent were investing in stocks.

Of those, 48 per cent said they had invested between 5,000 and 10,000 yuan, 26 per cent ploughed in between 1,000 and 5,000 yuan, 18 per cent between 10,000 and 50,000 yuan, while 8 percent pumped in more than 50,000 yuan.

The funds come mostly from parents eager to invest in their children's future, money from internships and also red envelopes, or "lai see", packets of cash that people give as gifts during Chinese New Year.

Pan Cheng, 21, of Shanghai University of Finance and Economics, is president of his school's Stock Study Society. It has about 800 members, roughly half of whom trade shares.

The society organizes mock stock trading competitions and students offer investing lectures. "Most of the students have invested less than 50,000 yuan. A few have over 100,000," said Pan.

Investing in stocks is now merely a past-time for many Chinese students, who discuss strategies with fellow investors they share dormitories with and trade stock tips online.

The Internet has also become the source of some of the more unusual banter about the recent stock market slide.

A short film being ciculated on Weibo, China's version of Twitter, portrays the country's stock markets as an army under siege, being attacked by short sellers and foreign forces.

The video ends with a picture of China's flag and a statement says: "A victorious, red flag will definitely hang above the A-share battleground."

The company responsible for the video, Sichuan 1980s Cultural Communications Co, said the film was made to promote the firm and it did not receive sponsorship.

Another post on social media shows an LED screen above the entrance at Changsha Railway Station flashing a sign that reads: "Safeguard the A-share market, those who can join in the fight, fight, those who have no ammunition also scream."

Many of the students Reuters spoke to were undeterred by the recent market slump. "No matter how the overall market is, in the long run, there will always be some rising stocks. So I will keep following the market," said Zheng Qi, 21, of Northeast Normal University in Jilin province.

And with many parents, who come from a generation where the trend was to save rather than spend, supportive of their children dabbling in the stock market, the trend looks set to continue.

"My parents don't care how much I've lost," said Zheng. "Every time I lose money, they send me WeChat messages saying'don't be sad' and 'just count it as the learning fee'."