Business / Markets

Speculation driving up soccer-related stocks

By  XIE YU in Hong Kong ( Updated: 2015-05-06 14:41

Investors have been piling up soccer-related shares as China's leadership reveals its plan to revitalize the nation's soccer industry. But some analysts said few of the targets are closely related to the industry and some shares have been overbought.

Chinese investors call the shares, related to club operators, football manufacturers, game sponsors and broadcasters of China's 11-year-old super league, "soccer concept shares".

The news that Vice-Premier Liu Yandong will lead a panel responsible for the national soccer reform sparked the latest buying frenzy of these shares last week. Companies including China Sports Industry Group, soccer club operator Jiangsu Sainty Corp Ltd, and a major football manufacturer Wuxi Double Elephant Micro Fiber Material Co Ltd all reached their daily upper limit last Thursday.

In fact, nine listed companies with ties to the country's soccer league have surged by an average of 158 percent since President Xi Jinping first mentioned plans in March 2014 to revive the soccer industry, which has been troubled by bribery and match-fixing scandals, according to Bloomberg.

Although "soccer concept shares" have been under correction this week, and dropped the most in three months on Tuesday, many investors still have faith in this sector.

"Liu's appointment shows the direct support and supervision from the central government. It pushes soccer reform up as a national strategy now. We believe the sports and soccer industry will develop well in the long run," Shanghai based analyst Xie Gang from Qilu Securities said in a research note on Monday.

According to a 50-point roadmap for soccer reform, released in March, China has set a long-term target to qualify for the World Cup, and host the championship. The national government will provide more funding for the national team, and set up two new training camps and 50,000 soccer schools by 2025.

Authorities are also considering a regulated betting system for super league games and new ways to improve the compensation system for players.

"The top-down passion to revive China's sports industry, especially the soccer sector, is sending positive signals to companies within this industry. However, it is very hard to make money by running a soccer club. Profits are mainly generated through ticket sales, and broadcasting," said Tao Ye, an analyst with Beijing based Minsheng Securities.

Some companies included among the "soccer concept shares" actually have a limited relationship with soccer, Tao said.

"The surge in the share prices is mainly due to speculation," he added.

Among the club operators, only Guangzhou-based Evergrande Real Estate Group has put the club business into its listed assets. While for China Sports Industry Corporation, soccer is just a small proportion of its business. The company is primarily engaged in real estate business, and sports event management and operation.

Ledman Optoelectronic Co, a partner of China's super soccer league, and Leshi Internet Information & Technology (Beijing) Co, which broadcasts league games on the Internet, are actually direct beneficiaries of the soccer reform, according to Tao.

However, these two companies are trading at 475 times and 221 times their estimated earnings in 2014, respectively.

"The president's personal affection for soccer matters a lot, but some shares have actually been overbought. We may see more corrections of those shares with weak earning potential support," said Eric Wei, a Shenzhen-based private equity fund analyst.

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