After a year of waiting, the doubts in the minds of China's equity investors have hardly been laid to rest.
What's more, they have been further befuddled by the top regulator's advice to buy blue-chip stocks.
China Securities Regulatory Commission chairman Guo Shuqing, who was regarded by retail investors as a white knight for the beleaguered market when he took office late last year, strongly advocated buying blue-chips in February.
He effectively promised an annualised 8 per cent return for those who heed his advice.
Among the thousands who listened was Chen Xiao.
The 38-year-old entrepreneur and veteran stock market investor avidly bought blue-chips from the beginning of this year, only to find his initial 700,000 yuan equity investment is now under water.
"I still won't blame chairman Guo for the losses," he said, estimating that so far he has lost 20 per cent to 30 per cent of his stake.
"It was reasonable to buy into profitable companies, but maybe it is not the right time to increase our holdings now."
Yesterday, the benchmark Shanghai Composite Index closed at 1,959.77, down 1 per cent from Friday.
It has fallen 11 per cent so far this year, following severe drops in the previous two years.
Investors were hoping that reform-minded Guo would set the tone for a firmer market by putting in measures to support it.
A person close to the commission said Guo envisioned his remarks on potential blue-chip returns would spur a buying spree for shares of the largest companies on the stock market, which, in turn, would help to buoy the key indicator.
"He was actively liaising with relevant authorities to increase cash dividends so that investors could be rewarded by the cash returns," the person said.
But the influx of new investment was insufficient, and investors ended up losing even more money as the bearish run continued.
Chen was expecting to receive cash dividends equivalent to 4 per cent of his total investments.
Still, that would not be enough to offset paper losses in his equity investments.
"Based on the previous years of dividend payouts by the companies I invested in, I would receive 4 per cent return," he said.
"I am not happy with that, but it's still better than nothing."
In November, the Ministry of Finance issued a new rule that cut the dividend tax rate by half for long-term investors.
It was widely believed that Guo played an important role in convincing the ministry to reform the dividend tax.
Currently, no matter how long an investor holds a stock, the dividends are subject to a flat 10 per cent tax. But under the new policy, which becomes effective on January 1 , investors who hold stocks for less than a month are subject to a 20 per cent tax, while those holding their stock for more than a month but less than a year are taxed at 10 per cent.
To encourage long-term holders, investors keeping their shares for more than a year will be taxed at just 5 per cent.
If Guo was aiming for higher cash dividends and a lower tax to lure investors to the market and keep them there for the long term, he overestimated the attraction.
Dozens of retail investors interviewed by the South China Morning Post said a lower dividend tax would not do much to make up for the losses they have sustained.
Chen Li, a strategist at UBS Securities, said that mainland retail investors previously did not pay much attention to cash dividends, hoping instead to strike it rich with a stock whose share price would rocket.
"It's just a message that the regulator and the chairman Guo are making their efforts to change the market," said Gu Wenjun, another retail investor.
"We need to wait and see."
The mainland stock market has long been a market whose performance could be orchestrated by the authorities.
That is why individual investors pay close attention to the remarks by regulators before deciding on their investments.Topics: China stock market Shanghai Composite Index Equity Investment Retail Investors