Bear market looms for China stocks in Hong Kong

Pedestrians walk past the Exchange Square complex which houses the HKEX. —Bloomberg

BEIJING: A gauge of Chinese shares traded in Hong Kong inched closer to bear market territory as a wobbling economic recovery, intensifying geopolitical tensions, and a weaker yuan keep investors away.

The Hang Seng China Enterprises Index (HSCEI) slumped as much as 0.8% in a volatile morning session yesterday, taking its losses from a Jan 27 peak to more than 19%.

Meituan was the biggest drag amid concerns that increased competition would dent the eCommerce firm’s profitability.

The grim milestone comes as China’s post-Covid recovery loses momentum and earnings fall short of high expectations. Investors said the market lacks catalysts for a rebound as friction with the United States on issues from technology to Taiwan keeps sentiment in check.

The HSCEI gauge has erased about half of the gains seen during a three-month reopening rally through January.

Down about 6% this year, it is among the worst performers in Asia.

Profits at industrial firms in China kept falling in the first four months of the year, underscoring cooling demand and deepening factory-gate deflation in the world’s second-largest economy.

Industrial profits fell 20.6% in the January to April period from the same time frame in 2022, data published on Saturday by the National Bureau of Statistics showed.

“China’s domestic recovery just hasn’t been as strong as expected and not enough to offset worries of a global slowdown,” said Marvin Chen, an analyst with Bloomberg Intelligence.

“Markets may be getting fatigued waiting on catalysts such as monetary easing or a thawing in US tensions and are looking elsewhere for growth.”

China’s onshore CSI 300 Index fell as much as 0.8% yesterday after having erased all its gains for 2023 last week amid a weaker yuan and developers’ debt woes.

Meanwhile, the MSCI Asia Pacific Index of regional stocks climbed as sentiment improved following a deal between President Joe Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy on the United States debt ceiling.

As losses deepen, Chinese equities are losing their bullish strategy calls. Citigroup Inc’s global allocation team cut its overweight rating on China to neutral on Friday, while Jefferies Financial Group Inc strategist Christopher Wood reduced his overweight allocation on the market for the second time in under two weeks in the Asia-Pacific ex-Japan model portfolio.

Meituan tumbled as much as 7.7% to its lowest level since October.

That more than offset a rally in NetEase Inc and Baidu Inc, and caused the Hang Sang Tech Index to reverse an early advance.

“Investors will only return in a meaningful way when concerns about geopolitics and a broader economic recovery are allayed,” said Vey-Sern Ling, managing director at Union Bancaire Privee. — Bloomberg

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