ANALYSIS-Latest China stock dive lacks global punch

Updated: 2007-05-30 19:27

HONG KONG - When Chinese stocks dropped almost 9 percent in February it caught international investors off guard, triggering a global market sell-off that raised ugly memories of the Asia financial crisis a decade earlier.

By comparison, the 6.5 percent fall in Shanghai shares on Wednesday has caused few global ripples yet, with even stock markets in Asia registering only modest declines. Volatility in currency, commodity and debt markets was also more subdued.

Global investors are less inclined to hit the panic button this time, strategists and fund managers said, because the pullback in China was widely expected and global sell-offs in the past year have proven to be buying opportunities.

"If you look at what happened in February, that kind of a fall was not expected. It came from the blue," said Binay Chandgothia, chief investment officer for Principal Asset Management's Hong Kong operation.

"If you look at what happened today, almost everybody on the street had been calling for a correction ... that's one big difference in terms of the trickle down impact of the correction on global markets."

Chinese stocks suffered their biggest fall since the February 27 slide on Wednesday after Beijing tripled a stock-trading tax in its latest move to curb a market that has nearly tripled in value over the past year.

But Japan's Nikkei eased just 0.5 percent, South Korea's KOSPI closed flat, Australia's S&P/ASX 200 index shed 1.2 percent, and Taiwan's TAIEX fell by less than half a percent.

The yen edged up just 0.2 percent against the euro and 0.1 percent against the dollar That compares with a jump of more than 2 percent against the dollar on February 27, when some speculators unwound carry trades, in which they had borrowed cheap in yen to invest in higher-yielding currencies.

Emerging markets risk spreads as measured by JP Morgan's EMBI+ index widened by one basis point to 155 basis points over US Treasuries. They are near the all-time low of 149 bps. This is in sharp contrast with its move in February when spreads widened by 23 bps.

The Chinese stock market fall did weigh on metal prices, but analysts said losses were limited as the market sought direction from equities for signs of risk aversion which could leave metals exposed.

Market watchers noted that after the Shanghai market's February 27 plunge, it resumed rising the next day and hit fresh highs within a month.

The latest fall "will take the heat off some of the regional markets and global investors will generally be cautious," said Mark Konyn, chief executive officer at Allianz Global Investors Hong Kong.

"But as we saw in February the recovery was fairly swift, and our sense is that in China itself, the recovery of this fall will also be there. There'll be buying support in the market."

Konyn said if the fall did deteriorate into a bigger and more significant decline, then it would have a psychological effect on investors generally, although that was "not the most likely outcome".


Fund managers and strategists noted that because of capital controls, the mainland market is effectively a closed one with only modest foreign participation. They added that the stock market action has little correlation to China's economy, the world's fourth biggest.

"It's the February precedent, which has reinforced the view that you don't sell into corrections, you buy them," said Malcolm Wood, regional strategist at Morgan Stanley.

Garry Evans, pan-Asian equity strategist at HSBC, said there was no reason for even a meltdown in the Chinese markets to have much of an impact on the rest of the world, even if it affected mainland consumption.

"If you think about what's driven growth in China over the past few years, its definitely not been consumption. It's been exports and investments and those are not particularly co-related to the equity market," he said.

"So I think people are rightly making the decision that growth in China is separate from the outlook for the equity market, and the outlook for the equity market in China is not really particularly connected to anywhere else."

But Asian stocks still looked vulnerable to any shocks after a run-up that sent markets including Hong Kong, South Korea and Australia to record highs in May, said Evans.

Asia excluding Japan trades at about 14.3 times forward earnings, which is above the average price to earnings ratio since 2001. This figure does not include Chinese mainland-listed A shares.

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