Vegan Burgers Have Kickstarted a Dangerous Stock Frenzy in China

(Bloomberg) --

A meat-substitute inspired rally in Chinese stocks may lack substance.

Following Beyond Meat Inc.’s spectacular U.S. debut, equity traders have been looking to play the global plant-protein trend in China, and it’s been a winning bet in May. Hefei Fengle Seed Co. and YanTai Shuangta Food Co. have soared more than 76% even as the broader market fell. Just one snag: the companies don’t make anything close to vegan burgers.

The trade is getting so speculative that it’s forced some companies to explain why they won’t benefit from the growing global appeal of meat substitutes -- a market that barely exists in China. Escalating trade tensions and rising pork prices attracted even more buyers to the sector, betting that prices for some agricultural goods will increase.

“Low share prices made these a convenient choice for speculators,” said Dai Ming, a Shanghai-based fund manager with Hengsheng Asset Management Co. “Beyond Meat’s performance has stoked a frenzy. These speculative trades are particularly dangerous when risk appetite retreats.”

Vegan Burgers Have Kickstarted a Dangerous Stock Frenzy in China

YanTai Shuangta and Hefei Fengle hit record trading volumes this week, the latter having already reacted to its soaring stock price by reminding investors that its pea sales are nonexistent and soybean seeds account for less than 1%. “The company does not have plans to go into the ‘man-made meat’ business,” Hefei Fengle said in an exchange filing Thursday, its latest statement distancing itself from the industry.

Harbin High-Tech Group Co., which processes soybeans, among a wide array of other businesses including real-estate development, said in a disclosure earlier this month that “investors should note that Beyond Meat’s chief ingredient is pea protein, not soy.” That hasn’t deterred traders from sending the shares on a 46% surge this month.

Such trend fixation in China was evident in February’s 5G craze, best illustrated by Eastern Communications Co.’s 224% rally in a little over a month. Nothing seemed to curb speculators’ enthusiasm, even as the company reminded investors that its businesses had nothing to do with 5G. The stock has since fallen 49% from its March peak.

“There is no market for substitute meat in China,” said Sun Zheng, an analyst at China Development Bank Securities. “These price moves don’t have anything to do with value.”

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