Investors brace for ugly start to post-holiday trade in China

SHANGHAI – Investors are bracing for a potential plunge in Chinese markets on Monday (Feb 3) when onshore trade in stocks, bonds, yuan and commodities resumes following the Lunar New Year break and a steep global selldown on fears about the spread of a new virus.

Looking to head off a panic, China’s central bank plans to inject 1.2 trillion yuan (S$236 billion) of liquidity into the markets via reverse repo operations on Monday. Beijing also said it would help firms that produce vital goods resume work as soon as possible, state broadcaster CCTV reported.

A total of 304 people have died in China from the coronavirus, the National Health Commission said on Sunday, with infections in China jumping to 14,380 as of Saturday.

At least another 171 cases have been reported in more than two dozen other countries and regions.

Chinese markets have been closed since the end of trade on Jan 23. World stocks, led by falls in Asia, have dropped 3 per cent since then, mostly on worries about the effect of the coronavirus on China’s economy.

Singapore-traded Chinese stock futures have traded throughout the break and have shed 7 per cent since Jan 23, pointing to a fall of a similar magnitude when markets open at 0130 GMT.

The rout caught up with Wall Street on Friday as major indexes slid more than 1.5 per cent in their worst week in six months. Treasury yields fell sharply as investors priced in a greater risk of US interest rate cuts.

Monday’s fixing at 0115 GMT of the midpoint of the yuan’s onshore trading band will be closely watched as a guide to how the People’s Bank of China intends to handle the financial fallout from the virus.

China’s yuan last traded at 6.9904 offshore, having weakened steadily last week to end Friday at 7.0028.

“There will be a burst of panic-selling,” said Wu Kan, portfolio manager at Soochow Securities Co, who like several onshore brokers expects the fall to be short-term.

Sources told Reuters that the China Securities Regulatory Commission (CSRC) had issued a verbal directive to brokerages including Citic Securities Co and China International Capital Corp to bar their clients from selling borrowed stocks on Feb 3. It was not clear if the suspension would be extended beyond Monday, one of the sources said.

Trade in commodities is likewise predicted to be bumpy.

Brokers expect the Shanghai Futures Exchange’s most active copper contract to test its daily down limit of 7 per cent.

The metal, which typically trades at a slight premium in China, closed in Shanghai at 48,160 yuan ($6,975.67) a tonne on Jan. 23. It has dropped 6.5 per cent in London since, and last traded at $5,567 a tonne, having hit a five-month trough.

Billionaire entrepreneur Guo Guangchang’s advice is for the brave.

“It’s nothing but short-term,” said Guo, whose business empire includes Foun Pharma, Juewei Food Co and Shanghai Yuyuan Tourist Mart, as well as Hong Kong-listed Fosun International.

“The panic we see in the capital markets will be gone before long.” he said. “For a long-term investor, now may be the opportunity, a very good opportunity, to step up investment in China’s capital markets.”

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