A performer creates bubbles on the Southbank as skyscrapers stand beyond in the City of London financial district in London. (Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg)

China’s $345 Billion Stock Rout Shows Beijing’s Fear of Bubbles

(Bloomberg) -- It started with a single sell rating on one stock. By the time China’s exchanges shut on Friday, equity investors were sitting on $345 billion of losses and the realization that Beijing is in no mood for another bubble.

The bearish call on shares of a state-owned insurer, delivered by analysts at China’s biggest state-owned brokerage, was widely interpreted as a sign that the government wants this year’s world-beating surge in Chinese stocks to slow down. The Shanghai Composite Index tumbled 4.4 percent, snapping an eight-week winning streak and closing at its low for the day after disappointing export figures gave investors another reason to sell.

Though indirect, it was the first time this year that China appeared to take steps to cool a buying frenzy that added almost $2 trillion to equity values and lifted market turnover to a more than three-year high. The government has until now been a big supporter of the rally, seeing it as a potential salve for overstretched corporate balance sheets and shaky consumer sentiment. But memories of the country’s disastrous 2015 boom and bust are still fresh.

“It’s about time that stocks took a pause, as regulators are increasingly concerned by a market that’s growing fanatic,” said Zhu Junchun, a Shanghai-based analyst at Lianxun Securities Co. “While authorities want an active market, they don’t want one that’s overactive.”

China’s $345 Billion Stock Rout Shows Beijing’s Fear of Bubbles

What to Watch

Investors will be watching Monday’s open for an indication of where momentum is heading. A positive start would signal that stocks can resume their climb at a pace that’s more acceptable to authorities, while another lurch lower might fuel concerns over disorderly selling by margin traders.

The rout in stocks was good news for China’s government bonds, which resumed their rally after being neglected for three weeks. Futures on 10-year sovereign notes headed for their biggest weekly increase in 11 months on Friday, with investors taking encouragement from Premier Li Keqiang’s suggestion that interest rates could be used to increase credit supply and bring down borrowing costs. Friday’s trade data added to speculation that more stimulus is on the way.

Chart of the week

Even before Friday, technicals were showing that the Shanghai Composite’s rise above 3,000 points would be brief.

China’s $345 Billion Stock Rout Shows Beijing’s Fear of Bubbles

Catching up

Here’s what else caught our eye this week:

  • The yuan is near a level that previously triggered intervention.
  • And longtime China bear Kyle Bass says short the currency.
  • The easiest job in China’s credit market is now exhausting.
  • The biggest winners from China’s economic plans.
  • Rushing to beat index, traders yank billions from China ETFs.
  • Tencent’s sudden surge had everyone guessing why.
  • Asia’s dollar bond market hasn’t been this hot in years.
  • The world’s top stock gets halted after a 8,500% rally.

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