As a diplomatic tit-for-tat escalates between Washington and Beijing, millions of Chinese investors — defiant and patriotic — are once again engineering a fast and furious bull market on their home turf. The theme? Self-reliance.
Two years ago, when the trade war first hit, China’s $8.5 trillion stock market sank into one of its deepest bear episodes, as worries about the economic damage of decoupling took root. This time, tension with the U.S. hasn’t even made a dent. Rather, mainland shares are on fire. The benchmark CSI 300 Index has rallied 14% this year, to trade at a five-year high. The S&P 500 Index, by comparison, is still in the red. Daily trading volume has exceeded 1 trillion yuan ($142 billion) for three consecutive trading days.
The latest frenzy began right after Beijing imposed its national security law on Hong Kong, despite U.S. opposition. Now, investors have renewed their faith that China is finally recognizing the importance of self-sufficiency. Bullish sell-side analysts are tossing around buzz words like national champions, import substitutes and capital market reforms; ultimately, these boil down the idea that turning inward is good for stocks.
There are many examples. Consider Shanghai-based Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp., a chip foundry that counts Huawei Technologies Co. as its largest client. Rather than languishing as Huawei gets boxed out of U.S. technology, SMIC’s Hong Kong-listed shares are up over 200% this year.
On the financing front, SMIC is behaving every bit like a national champion already. On May 15, the day Huawei got slapped with further sanctions, the state-owned China Integrated Circuit Industry Investment Fund, which held close to 20% of SMIC as of December 2019, said it would co-invest about $2.5 billion into one of its wafer plants. Meanwhile, securities regulators have fast-tracked the company’s plans to raise as much as $7.5 billion in Shanghai, the largest mainland initial public offering in a decade. Beijing is well aware that chip manufacturing is a capital-intensive business, and it must provide financial support as SMIC races to catch up on technology.
In the industrial space, global supply-chain disruption is already benefiting Chinese players. For instance, Sany Heavy Industry Co., China’s largest excavator maker, has seen its domestic market share jump to 27% from 8% in 2010, at the expense of foreign brands, data provided by HSBC Holdings Plc show. No surprise, Sany’s stock is up 24% this year, while Caterpillar Inc., whose mainland market share shrank to 11% from 14% in 2016, is down 13.5%. Jiangsu Hengli Hydraulic Co., a large manufacturer, tells a similar story. It’s up 55% this year.
Washington’s attempt to block mainland businesses’ access to U.S. money — from the delisting of Chinese American depositary receipts in New York, to forbidding federal pension funds from investing in mainland companies — is only forcing Beijing to speed up its capital markets reform. Regulators are already rewriting equity financing rules, including the launch of new registration-based IPOs, and opening new funding venues for young startups. As a result, we can expect China’s stock market to grow to 100% of its gross domestic product in the next five to 10 years, from 60% now, estimates CICC Research.
When it comes to stock investing, China and the U.S. face the same set of problems. A slowing economy inevitably eats into corporate earnings growth, narrowing any justification for a further bull run.
But President Donald Trump is giving China’s stock market a second wind. Huawei may prefer chips made by Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. — after the U.S. sanctions, though, it may have no choice but hold its nose and buy domestic. Meanwhile, industry consolidation, which benefits domestic firms, is only accelerating now that Beijing is openly supporting its national champions. Trump is always looking at the stock market for validation. This time, he’s looking at the wrong one. Shuli Ren, Bloomberg