WHILE the world worries about Greece, there’s an even bigger problem closer to home: China.
A stock market crash there has seen $3.2 trillion wiped from the value of Chinese shares in just three weeks, triggering an emergency response from the government and warnings of “monstrous” public disorder.
And the effects for Australia could be serious, affecting our key commodity exports and sparking the beginning of a period of recession-like conditions.
“State-owned newspapers have used their strongest language yet, telling people ‘not to lose their minds’ and ‘not to bury themselves in horror and anxiety’. [Our] positive measures will take time to produce results,” writes IG Markets.
“If China does not find support today, the disorder could be monstrous.”
In an extraordinary move, the People’s Bank of China has begun lending money to investors to buy shares in the flailing market. The Wall Street Journal reports this “liquidity assistance” will be provided to the regulator-owned China Securities Finance Corp, which will lend the money to brokerages, which will in turn lend to investors.
The dramatic intervention marks the first time funds from the central bank have been directed anywhere other than the banks, signalling serious concern from authorities about the crisis.
At the same time, Chinese authorities are putting a halt to any new stock listings. The market regulator announced on Friday it would limit initial public offerings — which disrupt the rest of the market — in an attempt to curb plunging share prices.
While the exact amount of assistance hasn’t been revealed, the WSJ reports no upper limit has been set.
All short-selling — the practice of betting that stocks will fall — has been banned, and Chinese media has rushed to reassure citizens.
Chinese shares rose this morning in response to the measures. Dow Jones reports the Shanghai Composite was up 4 per cent after gaining as much as 7.8 per cent at the open. But all indexes were off more than a quarter from highs reached in June.
Experts fear it could turn into a full-blown crash introducing even more uncertainty into global markets as Europe teeters on the edge of a potential eurozone exit by Greece, after Sunday’s controversial referendum.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR AUSTRALIA?
For Australia, the market crash in China is likely to impact earnings on key exports iron ore and coal, further slashing government revenue, while also putting downward pressure on the Australian dollar.
Jordan Eliseo, chief economist with ABC Bullion, said it was important to remember that the amount of wealth Chinese citizens have tied up in the stock market is relatively minor compared with western investors.
Stocks only make up about 8 per cent of household wealth in China, compared with around 20 per cent in developed nations.
“The market crash there is generating headlines, but it’s not going to have the same impact as a comparable crash would in a developed market,” he said.
“What it means for Australia, though, is it’s very clear there are some serious imbalances in the Chinese economy, and the rate of growth they’ve enjoyed in the past is over. There’s no question our export earnings are going to take another hit.”
Mr Eliseo predicts Australia is likely to experience “recession-like” conditions such as negative wage growth for many years to come. “I believe that’s going to be the new norm,” he said.
WHAT ARE THEY DOING ABOUT IT?
On Saturday, China’s 21 largest brokerage firms announced that they would invest more than $25.35 billion in the country’s stock markets to curb the declines.
The brokers will spend at least 120 billion yuan ($25.75 billion) on so-called “blue chip” exchange traded funds, the Securities Association of China said in a statement after an emergency meeting in Beijing.
On Friday the Shanghai Composite Index closed down 5.77 per cent to end at 3,686.92 points. Since peaking on June 12 Shanghai has dropped nearly 29 per cent, which Bloomberg News said was its biggest three-week fall since November 1992.
The Shanghai market had swelled by 150 per cent in the last 12 months and experts had expected a sharp correction, though the rate at which it has occurred is unnerving many.
Middle-class Chinese investors, encouraged by the government, have been pumping money into the stock market. The WSJ quoted 51-year-old Li Ping, who sold her 7 million yuan ($1.5 million) Beijing apartment to plough 4 million yuan into stocks.
Ms Li said she thought the market would stabilise and rise again. “The fund that I have invested in is very mature and professional,” she said.
CRACKDOWN AS PANIC TRIGGERS ‘SUICIDE’ RUMOURS
Underscoring growing jitters amid the three-week sell-off, police in Beijing detained a man on Sunday for allegedly spreading a rumour online that a person jumped to their death in the city’s financial district due to China’s precarious stock markets.
The 29-year-old man detained was identified by the surname Tian, and is a manager at a technology and science company in Beijing, police said in a post on their official microblog.
Police said Tian’s alleged posting of the rumour took place Friday and called on internet users to obey laws and regulations, not to believe and spread rumours, and to cooperate with police.
The state-run Xinhua news agency reported that Tian allegedly posted the rumours with video clips and screenshots Friday afternoon.
The post, which is said to have gone viral, “provoked emotional responses among stock investors who suffered losses over the past weeks”, Xinhua said.
Xinhua added that a police investigation showed that the video in question had been shot on Friday morning in the eastern Chinese province of Jiangsu where a man had jumped to his death. Local police there were investigating that case, Xinhua said.
The original post was unavailable Sunday on China’s tightly controlled social media, where authorities are quick to delete controversial material.