China tries to calm markets by pledging support for economy
BEIJING (AP) — China’s government tried Wednesday to reassure jittery investors by promising support for real estate and technology companies after regulatory crackdowns caused stock prices to plunge.
Regulators should issue market-friendly policies to “invigorate the economy,” officials said at a Cabinet meeting led by Vice Premier Liu He, President Xi Jinping’s top economic adviser, the official Xinhua News Agency said
The announcement appeared aimed at rebuilding business and investor confidence as the ruling Communist Party tries to revive economic growth that slid to 4% i n the final quarter of 2021, compared with the full year’s expansion of 8.1%.
The downturn was triggered by a collapse in construction and housing sales after Beijing launched a crackdown on debt in real estate that officials worry is dangerously high.
That added to private sector anxiety about the status of Chinese industries following anti-monopoly and data-security investigations, multimillion-dollar fines and public criticism of e-commerce and other internet companies and a spat with Washington about oversight of companies with U.S.-traded shares.
Xi’s government has promised to support entrepreneurs who generate new jobs and wealth. But crackdowns have shaken the private sector since 2020, with no indication when the uncertainty might end.
Wednesday’s announcement gave no sign the debt, anti-monopoly and other regulatory campaigns are finished. But some economists suggested enforcement may have peaked after leaders announced a “policy pivot” in December to focus on the shorter-term goal of shoring up economic growth.
Share prices of companies including e-commerce giant Alibaba Group have fallen by almost half on foreign exchanges, wiping out more than $1 trillion in stock value since the start of last year.
Liu, the vice premier, “spoke to stop the stock market rout,” Larry Hu and Xinyu Ji of Macquarie Group said in a report.
“The tone of the meeting is strong, suggesting that policymakers are deeply concerned about the recent market rout,” they said.
Chinese stock markets rebounded after the announcement. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index soared 9.1% while the Shanghai Composite index advanced 3.5%.
Hong Kong-traded shares in Alibaba jumped 25.8%. Tencent Holdings, operator of the popular WeChat message service, surged 23%. Livestreaming site Kuaishou Technology added nearly 34%.
The Hang Seng Tech Index for technology stocks on the Hong Kong exchange ended the day up 22.2%.
“These announcements don’t mean much individually, but collectively, they suggest policymakers won’t sit idle,” Stephen Innes of SPI Asset Management said in a report.
The economy also is encumbered by anti-coronavirus measures that shut down the southern business center of Shenzhen and other cities, raising the risk of disruptions of manufacturing and trade.
China’s No. 2 leader, Premier Li Keqiang, said last week the government hopes to generate as many as 13 million new job s this year but faces “many difficulties and challenges.” Forecasters say the ruling party is likely to struggle to meet its official 5.5% economic growth target, the lowest since the 1990s.
Abroad, Russia’s attack on Ukraine has pushed up oil and other commodity prices and raised the risk of more snags for trade at a time when economies are recovering from the pandemic.
The meeting of the Cabinet’s financial stability committee promised to “propose supporting measures” for real estate, Xinhua said. It gave no details of possible initiatives.
Housing sales and construction, industries that support millions of jobs, plunged last year. The government has tried to revive demand by telling banks to lend more to home buyers, but economists say Beijing is moving cautiously to avoid igniting a surge in housing costs and debt.
In a separate statement, the agency that regulates Chinese banks and insurers promised to encourage lenders to “support development of the real economy” by maintaining moderate loan growth.
It promised to support “healthy development” of real estate while repeating the official slogan that housing is “for living, not for speculation.”
The agency said China’s state-owned insurers would be encouraged to increase investment in stock markets.
The Cabinet officials promised to coordinate more closely on policies that will affect financial markets and to move cautiously on carrying out any that might disrupt them.
The government “will promote the development” of internet industries and improve their competitiveness, Xinhua said, without giving details.
Entrepreneurs and investors also are uneasy about the status of Chinese companies on U.S. and other foreign stock exchanges after Beijing and Washington clashed over how much information American regulators can require those companies to divulge.
Tech companies with shares traded abroad also face heightened scrutiny by regulators of their cross-border data flows.
In December, China’s dominant ride-hailing service, Didi Global Inc., announced it was leaving the New York Stock Exchange and shifting its share-trading to Hong Kong. That followed a data-security investigation of Didi launched by Chinese regulators shortly after its June 30 stock market debut.
Wednesday’s announcement sounded a positive note about Chinese companies and foreign stock exchanges, though it was vague, saying only that Beijing will “continue to support overseas share listings.”
It said Chinese and U.S. regulators are having a “good dialogue” about stock markets and working on a plan for cooperation following disputes over audit requirements that led to a threat to kick some Chinese companies off American exchanges.