Bulls in the China shop
WOULD-BE share punters, keen for a piece of China's booming stockmarket, are queuing to open accounts at a Beijing branch of China Merchants Securities. A busy manager, handing out application forms, says he is taking on 100 new clients a day, perhaps five times as many as a year ago. Bunches of small investors, ranging from students to pensioners, crowd around computer terminals to carry out their trades, keeping an eye on the prices as they flicker across big electronic screens. China's biggest-ever stockmarket boom may be turning into a bubble—and the country's leaders are getting worried.
Some economists fret that share prices are moving far ahead of companies' earnings, to a degree scarily reminiscent of Japan in the late 1980s just before its crash. With the help of new share listings, the combined market value of the Shanghai and Shenzhen exchanges has risen to some 15 trillion yuan ($1.8 trillion), 87% more than at the end of last year and surpassing that of Hong Kong.
The growing involvement of low-income groups such as students and pensioners, who were more cautious during the last bull run, could make a crash more painful.
Twice this year—on February 27th and April 19th—the markets have wobbled alarmingly amid rumours of tougher measures to control the flow of cash. The latest upset was caused by figures showing the economy growing even faster than expected: in the first quarter of this year, output was up 11.1% on the same period of last year. But the bulls have quickly returned. Outside the China Merchants Securities branch, a group of investors debates the market's prospects. “It's like a casino set up by the Communist Party,” says one. Another says only fools are still investing. But none has any plans to cash out.
Certainly looks to be exhibiting many of the classic bubble characteristics, fuelled (as was the late-90s bubble in the West) by the widening adoption of online trading:
A big difference between this bull market and the last is the penetration of the internet and mobile telephony... The widespread installation of broadband in homes over the past four years has made it easier for pensioners and housewives to join in.