China’s Market Rescue Is Failing as Xi Holds Back on Stimulus

China’s regulators face a losing battle convincing global funds to invest in the nation’s stocks unless market boosting efforts are accompanied by stronger stimulus to support growth.

(Bloomberg) — China’s regulators face a losing battle convincing global funds to invest in the nation’s stocks unless market boosting efforts are accompanied by stronger stimulus to support growth.

Officials have undertaken a flurry of measures in recent days to improve battered sentiment in the world’s second-largest stock market. They’ve urged financial institutions to snap up equities, encouraged companies to boost buybacks, and asked mutual funds to stop selling. All to little avail, with the MSCI China Index slumping a further 1.3% at the close of local markets on Friday. 

“Investors have been disappointed by the lack of concrete measures to boost the economy,” said Karine Hirn, partner at East Capital Asset Management. “Without stronger measures from the government and while political tensions between China and the West continue, the market may continue trending down.”

The MSCI China index has tumbled 11% this month, set for its worst performance since October and putting it in the red for a third straight year. Country Gardens Holding Co., previously China’s largest developer, has led losses in August with a 49% drop amid concern the company will default on its dollar debt. 

Global funds have been fleeing the mainland market, offloading almost $11 billion in a 13-day run of withdrawals through Wednesday, the longest since Bloomberg began tracking the data in 2016. Wall Street analysts are also turning more downbeat, with Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. lowering their targets on Chinese stocks in the past week, after starting the year on a positive note.

Despite the nation’s top leaders promising pro-growth policies at the Politburo meeting on July 24, little has been done to counter the slowdown. That’s drawn attention to President Xi Xinping’s determination to shift away from the debt-fueled growth model of his predecessors.

Read more: Run It Cold: Why Xi Jinping Is Letting China’s Economy Flail

China’s government is once again upturning consensus forecasts just as it did in 2021 when authorities cracked down on private enterprise, said Matt Maley, chief market strategist at Miller Tabak + Co.

“The same thing is taking place this year with Chinese officials responding in a less rigorous way to the weakness in their economy than the consensus has been expecting,” said Maley. “It shows that China does not care at all about what others think that they should do. China is going to do what their leadership believes is best for them.”

Read more: China Stimulus Rally Lasts Just 10 Minutes, Showing Trader Gloom

The latest economic figures make for grim reading. Bank loans plunged to a 14-year low in July, deflation has set in and exports are contracting. Zhongzhi Enterprise Group Co., one of China’s biggest shadow banks, halted payments on scores of high-yield investment products since last month, prompting concern of contagion from the slumping property market.

Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan Chase and Barclays Plc now see China missing a government-set growth target of around 5% for 2023 — a far cry from the sentiment this spring, when that goal was widely viewed as overly conservative. 

“People are worried about the lack of policy response,” said Dave Perrett, co-head of Asian Investment at M&G Investments. “They’re looking forward over the next three to six months and they don’t see the economy doing much better and people are worried about contagion as a result.”

Read more: Everything China Is Doing to Juice Its Flagging Economy

The recent rout comes after several years of disappointing market performance. That’s widened the gap between China’s financial markets and that of the US to near-historic levels. 

Chinese shares and the currency are close to their weakest level relative to their US peers since at least 2007. A flight to safety and easier monetary policy has fueled gains in Chinese government bonds, increasing the yield discount on two-year debt versus Treasuries to the widest since 2006. 

The data “all lead to a weaker conviction for international investors to justify the risk they are taking for China equities versus assets elsewhere with better perceivable risk-reward,” said Xiadong Bao, fund manager at Edmond de Rothschild Asset Management in Paris. 

Officials are still hoping to convince foreign investors. The securities regulator plans to convene a meeting with some of the world’s biggest asset managers in Hong Kong including Fidelity International Ltd. and Goldman Sachs, Bloomberg News reported Friday. 

What global fund managers are looking for is evidence of an improving economy, according to Matthew Poterba, senior analyst at Richard Bernstein Advisors.

“Foreign investors are incredibly pessimistic on Chinese equities right now,” Poterba said. “Many managers remain underinvested in Chinese stocks and will need to see more concrete signs of a durable recovery before inching back in.”

–With assistance from Wenjin Lv.

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