The People’s Bank of China (PBOC) started the New Year with a downward currency adjustment and fireworks followed.
Last week, three distinct issues affected China’s stock market. First, the PBOC’s devaluation of the yuan (a.k.a. the renminbi), along with the knowledge the central bank had been spending heavily to prop up its currency in recent months, led many analysts and investors to the conclusion China’s economy might not be as robust as official reports indicated, according to the Financial Times.
Not everyone was surprised by this revelation. During the fourth quarter of 2015, The Conference Board’s working paper entitled Global Growth Projections for The Conference Board Global Economic Outlook 2016 reported:
“China’s economy grew much slower than the official estimates suggest in the recent years. During the last five years, our estimates suggest an average growth of 4.3 percent, which is substantially lower than the official estimate of 7.8 percent. In 2015, we project China to see an average growth of 3.7 percent, which is indeed lower than the official target of 7 percent.”
Second, state-run media made it clear the Chinese government would not step in to spur growth. Allowing market forces to play out is a requirement of the reforms international investors have been demanding of China, according to Barron’s. The publication suggested Chinese President Xi Jinping is the victim of a Catch-22. The Chinese government took steps toward reform and international investors responded by selling shares in a panic:
“Weaning China off excessive credit, investment and import-led growth in favor of services means slower growth. Markedly slower, in fact, than the 6.5 percent Beijing is gunning for this year. But Monday’s 7 percent stock rout shows international investors want it both ways. The rapid growth, innovation, and disruptive forces that capitalism produces? Yes. The downturns and volatility that come with it? Not so much.”
The third factor was China’s new and very strict stock market circuit breakers, which were introduced on January 4. The circuit breakers were intended to calm overheated markets, but they sparked panicked selling instead. When the Shanghai Shenzhen CSI 300 Index falls 5 percent, Chinese stock trading stops for 15 minutes. When the index is down 7 percent, trading stops for the day. A similar mechanism is employed in U.S. markets, which are far less volatile. However, trading is not delayed until the Standard & Poor’s 500 index has fallen by 7 percent, and it does not stop until the index is down by 20 percent. Last week, China’s stock markets closed twice as investors, who were worried the circuit breakers might kick in, rushed to sell shares.
China suspended its circuit breakers on Thursday, and the PBOC set the value of the yuan at a higher level. That helped China’s stock markets, and others around the world, settle. China’s markets gained ground on Friday, although U.S. markets finished the week lower. Markets may continue to be jittery next week as “a tsunami of negative psychology driven by China” works its way through the system, reported Reuters.
|Data as of 1/8/16||1-Week||Y-T-D||1-Year||3-Year||5-Year||10-Year|
|Standard & Poor’s 500 (Domestic Stocks)||-6.0%||-6.0%||-6.8%||9.7%||8.7%||4.1%|
|Dow Jones Global ex-U.S.||-6.1||-6.1||-11.1||-2.6||-2.0||-0.5|
|10-year Treasury Note (Yield Only)||2.1||NA||2.3||1.9||3.3||4.4|
|Gold (per ounce)||3.7||3.7||-9.4||-12.7||-4.2||7.4|
|Bloomberg Commodity Index||-2.3||-2.3||-26.0||-17.8||-13.5||-7.6|
|DJ Equity All REIT Total Return Index||-3.0||-3.0||-4.6||8.8||11.1||6.5|
S&P 500, Dow Jones Global ex-US, Gold, Bloomberg Commodity Index returns exclude reinvested dividends (gold does not pay a dividend) and the three-, five-, and 10-year returns are annualized; the DJ Equity All REIT Total Return Index does include reinvested dividends and the three-, five-, and 10-year returns are annualized; and the 10-year Treasury Note is simply the yield at the close of the day on each of the historical time periods.