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Opinion

Government meddling to precede China market meltdown

In most normal markets, when enough investors acknowledge the existence of a bubble, it will burst, so why has China’s ‘A’ share market, arguably the world’s most obvious stock market bubble, not popped yet?

The short answer is, of course, that China is not a normal market. Understanding what is going on in what has already become the region’s third-largest stock market, as well as what is likely to happen, requires a deeper understanding of the structural problems within China’s financial system.

Most headlines focus on the deluge of retail money that has poured into the ‘A’ share market since the authorities initiated their structural reforms. It is easy to be blinded by this spectacle: queues of frantic punters outside brokerages clamouring to open trading accounts and play the market make for good copy, but it is still little more than a sideshow.

Data are difficult to come by in China. However, according to research undertaken by Fraser Howie, head of structured products at CLSA and co-author of Privatizing China, of the freely tradable ‘A’ shares (about one-third of the total), institutional type funds account for perhaps 25%, with retail holding perhaps another 15%. The balance of tradable ‘A’ shares is held by an agglomeration of various government-related entities and politically connected investors, accounting for as much as 60% of the total.

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