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Chinese Stocks Head For The Chop

by Mary Swire,, Hong Kong

09 October 2007

Despite some volatility, Hong Kong's share index the Hang Seng has been standing at around 28,000 recently. That's up 40% this year. And just a few years ago, the Hang Seng was languishing at around 11,000. But it could have gone much higher.

A year ago, Hong Kong seemed set fair to reap a major crop of Chinese IPOs in 2007, but the reality has been that new share issues on the mainland will top US$100bn this year (25% of the world's total) while Hong Kong has pulled in just US$6bn so far.

Perhaps Hong Kongers shouldn't be that sorry. More and more commentators are saying that the Chinese stock exchange bubble, which has seen Shanghai's stock index rise more than 500% in the last two years, is unsustainable. If all that loose Chinese liquidity had flowed into Hong Kong rather than being diverted to Shanghai, Hong Kong would be in similar straits.

Bubbles this dramatic always end in tears, and the gutted balance sheets of many major Chinese companies - ignored by investors - leave the market desperately unsupported.

Poised at the edge of a cliff, and despite the efforts of the government to tamp down share prices with a series of tax increases and liquidity curbs, Chinese speculators continue to make hay while the sun shines: more than US$30bn of issues are expected in the next three months.

Bizzarely, the mainland is said to have been buying shares in HKEx at the same time as leaning on major companies to list in Shanghai rather than in Hong Kong. Beijing, it seems, doesn't want Hong Kong to become too powerful; but at the same time it knows Hong Kong can't be kept down.

Chinese officials deny, meanwhile, that they have been putting money into Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing (HKEx), which operates the territory's stock exchange, although Hong Kong insiders said there unmistakable signs that it was happening. They believe that newly-formed state investment company CIC, which has been given $200bn to play with by Beijing, will plough much of this money into Hong Kong assets.

So there you have it: do you believe the Shanghai index, or do you believe Beijing?

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