Will baijiu and casinos fall out of national favour in Xi era?
Government action to target liquor and gaming sectors of the mainland economy has dampened spirits - and share prices - among the wealthy
China's stock market is often described by Chinese media as a playground for gamblers. It is rife with gossip and speculation, and subject to the vagaries of Chinese politics.
With the emergence of Xi Jinping as China's new boss, some wealthy people have been pulling money out of the stock markets in Shanghai, Shenzhen and Hong Kong in recent weeks. They have been particularly anxious to exit two sectors - liquor and gaming, both of which are linked to the nation's longtime problem of corruption, which Xi has vowed to fight.
Chinese liquor, also known as baijiu, is no stranger to foreigners who travel to the mainland for business.
The fiery white tipple is often used to lubricate dealmaking with local partners and government officials, occasions marked by multiple rounds of "gan bei", which literally means "empty the glass".
One of the best-known baijiu brands in China is Kweichow Moutai, whose foreign fans once included the late former US president Richard Nixon.
A bottle now retails for more than 5,000 yuan (HK$6,220) at most five-star hotels on the mainland.
Moutai has long been referred to as "the spirit of China" in the Chinese media. That is until recently, when businessmen and officials began to detect a new political sentiment brewing in the world's No2 economy.
Shortly after Xi was confirmed to replace Hu Jintao in mid-November, he pledged no mercy in the battle against graft. Although Xi didn't say that drinking too much Moutai too often could be associated with corrupt activities, the market took his comments as an excuse to dump shares of the Shanghai-listed company, whose sales are reliant on business entertainment.
Moutai's share price has since fallen more than 20 per cent. Other local baijiu brands such as Wuliangye and Jiuguijiu were also apparently victims of Xi's anti-corruption comments. Their domestically listed stock has fallen between 15 per cent and 25 per cent, respectively, since mid-November.
"The market is concerned about the restriction of government spending and [new action on] anti-corruption, which will affect the sales of Moutai in the short term," said Zhu Weihua at China Merchants Securities, one of the first analysts to follow Moutai's stock.
Moutai is often out of stock in shops. And Zhu noted the less officials spent on Moutai, the more would be available for individual consumers to buy for special occasions, which should bolster the stock in the long run.
Gaming stocks, many of which are listed in Hong Kong, have also come under fire after online rumours last week that Beijing had dispatched special agents to Macau to investigate corruption and money-laundering involving some senior government officials.
At least a dozen mainland officials have been caught in the new leadership's anti-graft drive, including Li Chuncheng, deputy party secretary for Sichuan province, who was detained early this month. More "big fish" are expected to be caught in the anti-graft net.
For the record, according to people who worked with Xi, he prefers red wine and whisky to baijiu.
George Chen is the Post's financial services editor. Mr. Shangkong appears every Monday in the print version of the SCMP. Like it? Visit facebook.com/mrshangkong