Key issues at core of China share slump

Hitting historic lows appears to have become so easy for mainland B-share indices that the news no longer sets the hearts of investors pounding.

Take the Shanghai B-share market, created for foreigners in 1992 but also invested by mainlanders. In four of five trading sessions last week, the B-Share Index only had to edge down by less than one point to achieve new lows, a trend mirrored in Shenzhen.

The index lost just 0.493 point for the week to finish at 25.24 points. In percentage terms, it was down 1.91 per cent for the week.

In Shenzhen, the index lost 0.14 point, or 0.29 per cent, for the week to finish at 47.7 points.

Combined daily turnover of B shares traded on the two markets was a fraction of the A markets: about 15 million yuan (HK$13.96 million) for Friday, against 5.57 billion yuan for A shares.

'The B-share companies are announcing their results soon, and investors are not optimistic about their performance in general,' China Guotai Securities analyst Chen Xiaofeng said.

Such has been the investor interest that prices of nearly all 108 stocks traded on the B markets have fallen below their issue prices and net asset values.

For an idea of the huge discount of B shares over A, just look at Shanghai Dazhong Taxi, whose B shares now trade at about 37 US cents (or about three yuan) against about 12.6 yuan for its A shares.

'These stocks represent good investment value now, but there are few buyers,' Haitong Securities analyst Jiang Chang said.

For most investors, parking money in B shares is simply not worth it, unless the China Securities Regulatory Commission takes drastic steps to revive the markets.

The hub of the problems boils down to the poor quality of companies and low turnover. The companies listed are mainly those in the 'sunset' industries - stationery, bicycles and washing machines - and where domestic demand is saturated.

A B-share market characterised by corporate duds which routinely ignore disclosure standards obviously cannot match the higher standards demanded of mainland companies listing overseas. It is clear where investors will put their money.

Clearly, Beijing has yet to come up with a satisfactory answer to the problem. This is reflected in the country's first Securities Law, which only has a passing reference to B shares, that regulations for the B markets would be promulgated later by the State Council.

If the central government does not know what to do with the markets, why should investors put money in these stocks?