China regulator’s new buzzword fuels buying spree in state firms

Financial markets have taken note and may lean towards areas that China is championing.
PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING - A new term coined by China’s securities chief has investors debating whether it implies a premium for state-owned companies and businesses better aligned with national goals.

A “valuation system with Chinese characteristics” has become the latest buzzword, after China Securities Regulatory Commission chairman Yi Huiman devised the term during a speech this week and proposed a new method of valuing state, private and foreign-controlled firms.

In his remarks, Mr Yi singled out state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and state-owned financial institutions, saying they accounted for nearly half of the onshore market capitalisation, which “shows their pillar role in the economy”.

Markets have taken note, with large SOEs posting big jumps. China Communications Construction surged 10 per cent in each of the past two sessions, China Aluminum International Engineering soared more than 50 per cent during that period in Hong Kong, while CGN New Energy Holdings gained as much as 22 per cent on Wednesday.

“The emphasis from chairman Yi has been on financial markets to better support the real economy, and that could pertain to undervalued SOEs,” said China Merchants Securities’ chief strategist Zhang Xia.

“It could also refer to areas of higher-end development that policies are encouraging, such as higher-end manufacturing.”

Financial markets may lean towards areas that China is championing, and this could involve a reassessment of how to price SOEs.

China Communications Construction is trading at 6.2 times forward earnings, while China Railway Group is at just over four times in Shanghai. That compares with a multiple of 11 for the benchmark CSI 300 Index.

Still, some investors say Mr Yi’s remarks may signal a move away from market-oriented reforms and others caution that the rally in SOE stocks is unlikely to last.

“The gains in the handful of SOEs is likely the result of some looking for a new speculative trade in the absence of a clear trend for growth and a lack of real investment opportunities during a time of confusion, rather than buying up these stocks in earnest,” said Mr Zhang Fuzhen, senior analyst at Shanghai PD Fortune Asset Management.

“If this were really about something deeper, like a fundamental shift, the broader gauge of confidence would have taken a much bigger hit,” he said. BLOOMBERG

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