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China’s market open was everything investors feared and more. A gauge of the nation’s stocks plunged almost 8%, commodity futures from iron ore to crude sank by the daily limit, and the yuan weakened past a key level against the dollar.
Officials tried to ward off panic selling before trading resumed by injecting liquidity into the money market and appealing for calm. All to little avail. Worried by the mounting death toll from the coronavirus and China’s drastic efforts to contain it -- two-thirds of the economy remains shut down this week -- investors dashed for the exits.
It was the first chance mainland investors had since Jan. 23 to trade, due to the extended Lunar New Year break. Many stocks immediately fell by the 10% daily limit -- almost 3,500 at the last count. While the longevity and scale of the outbreak remains hard to predict, there’s little doubt it will have a major drag on the world’s second-largest economy, at least in the short term.
“The pandemic is not something that will only impact the market for just a few days, it’ll last for a while,” said Sun Jianbo, president of China Vision Capital in Beijing.
The effects reverberated across the nation’s markets. China’s benchmark iron ore contract declined by its daily limit of 8%, while crude and palm oil also sank by the maximum allowed. The yield on China’s most actively traded 10-year government bonds dropped the most since 2014. The yuan tumbled more than 1% to weaken past 7 per dollar.
The CSI 300 Index of companies listed in Shanghai and Shenzhen closed 7.9% lower after falling as much as 9.1%. The loss was the most since August 2015 in the aftermath of the bursting of an equity bubble. Declines were led by telecom, technology and commodity producers. The Shanghai Composite Index slid 7.7%.
“It is really hard to trade stocks,” said Li Shuwei, chairman at Beijing WanDeFu Investment Management Co. “It’s impossible to predict how this disease will develop. Even the experts have no clear idea when the outbreak will end, let alone stock traders. It’s too early to buy stocks right now and it’s also difficult to sell as all shares are limit down. So I will just have to wait and see.”
The death toll from the virus has now topped 360, with more than 17,000 confirmed cases in the country.
Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index, which dropped 5.9% in three days of trading last week, rose 0.3% at 3:33 p.m. local time, led by health-care firms.
Read more about China’s latest support measures
China injected cash into the financial system Monday, with the central bank seeking to ensure ample liquidity as the outbreak’s impact intensifies. The People’s Bank of China cut the rates on the funds by 10 basis points.
The China Securities Regulatory Commission also told some brokerages that their proprietary traders aren’t allowed to be net sellers of equities this week, according to people familiar with the matter. Brokerages on Monday were only allowed to sell to meet redemptions by investors, according to the people.
In addition, the CSRC suspended securities lending, one of the few short selling tools available in China, from Monday until further notice, the people said.
The outlook for China’s onshore markets was already bleak when investors went on holiday last month. The Shanghai Composite Index sank 2.8% on Jan. 23, its worst end to a Lunar Year on record.
A number of Chinese provinces and cities have extended the Lunar New Year break until the end of Feb. 9, including Shanghai and Guangdong. Beijing, the country’s administrative center, stopped short of declaring this week a holiday. Instead employees are encouraged to work from home.
“A lot of people in the market have not been through situations like today, and you can’t blame people for wanting cash when they feel like their health is at risk,” said Fang Rui, managing director at Shanghai WuSheng Investment Management Partnership. “There’s not a lot we can do today, we are already very heavily exposed with very little remaining funds to use to buy.”
The outbreak is leaving China increasingly isolated. The U.S., India, Australia, Indonesia, Singapore, Israel, Russia, New Zealand and the Philippines have all imposed restrictions on visitors from China. In Hong Kong, the government said it was studying further controls on travel from the mainland in response to a planned strike by medical workers aimed at pressuring the government to shut the border with China.
The rout will bring buying opportunities, but it’s too soon to be stepping back in, according to China Vision Capital’s Sun.
“I’d sell into any rebound first before buying them back for longer term growth. For now I’d say there’s no need to be over-pessimistic but let’s not be too optimistic either.”
--With assistance from April Ma and Eric Lam.
To contact the reporters on this story: Sofia Horta e Costa in Hong Kong at firstname.lastname@example.org;Ken Wang in Beijing at email@example.com;Amanda Wang in Shanghai at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Richard Frost at email@example.com
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