Share Button


China’s stocks have underperformed this year as questions linger on durability of economic rebound

By Jacky Wong
Tue, May 9, 2023 2:51pmGrey Clock 2 min

One mystery in global markets this year is that while China’s economy appears to be rebounding strongly, its stock market hasn’t been doing as well.

The MSCI China index has risen only 1.8% so far this year, underperforming many of the major markets. The S&P 500 index, for example, has gained 7.7%. Stocks listed in Shanghai and Shenzhen have done a bit better—the CSI 300 index has gone up 4.9% in 2023. That seems to be in contrast to the rebounding economy, after China scrapped its strict “zero-Covid” pandemic restrictions in December and scaled back its regulatory crackdown on its technology companies.

China’s gross domestic product grew 4.5% from a year earlier in the first quarter and, more significantly, consumption has also come back strongly: retail sales jumped more than 10% in March from a year earlier. Crowds were everywhere in Chinese scenic spots in the recent five-day “Golden Week” holiday. Total domestic trips during the holiday rose 19% from the same period in 2019, according to official figures. Tourism revenue also recovered to pre pandemic levels.

Of course, the rally in Chinese stocks late last year already priced in a big part of the recovery. The MSCI China index surged 34% in the last two months in 2022, after rumours of reopening started to circulate.

Yet earnings growth so far has been disappointing. For nearly 80% of Chinese listed companies that have reported their first-quarter results, profits only grew an average 1% year on year, with around 69% of them having missed consensus earnings estimates, according to Goldman Sachs. About 77% of A-share shares—companies listed in Shanghai and Shenzhen—revised down their earnings guidance for 2023, according to Bank of America.

Earnings growth will likely improve ahead, especially against a lower base last year, when lockdowns across the country battered the economy. The struggling housing sector also seems to have stabilised. But a big question that remains is how long the consumption bounce could last. The export sector may suffer with a potential recession looming in the U.S. and Europe. China’s job market, especially for younger workers, is still quite weak. That partly explains why investors have jumped back into shares of state-owned enterprises—a more stable choice in an uncertain time.

Chinese stocks have rebounded substantially from their lows last year, but are still way off their peaks in early 2021, when China appeared to have avoided the worst of the pandemic. A more sustained market recovery would require a more broad-based revival of earnings growth.


What a quarter-million dollars gets you in the western capital.

Alexandre de Betak and his wife are focusing on their most personal project yet.

Related Stories
China’s Housing Market Woes Deepen Despite Stimulus
By REBECCA FENG 18/06/2024
I.M. Pei’s Son Speaks of His Father’s Legacy of Creating ‘Places for People’ Ahead of a Retrospective in Hong Kong
By ABBY SCHULTZ 12/06/2024
By Robyn Willis 06/06/2024

Home prices declined at a faster pace in May in major cities, while other data show a mixed picture for the world’s second-largest economy

Tue, Jun 18, 2024 3 min

China’s broken housing market isn’t responding to some of the country’s boldest stimulus measures to date—at least not yet.

The Chinese government has been stepping up support for housing and other industries in recent months as it tries to revitalize an economy that has  continued to disappoint  since the early days of the pandemic.

But fresh data for May showed that businesses and consumers remain cautious. Home prices continue to fall at an accelerating rate, and fixed-asset investment and industrial production, while growing, lost some momentum.

“China’s May economic data suggest that policymakers have a lot to do to sustain the fragile recovery,” Yao Wei, chief China economist at Société Générale, wrote in a client note on Monday.

The worst pain is in the property sector, which has been struggling to deal with oversupply and weak buyer sentiment since 2021, when a multiyear  housing boom ended . The market still doesn’t appear to have found a floor, even after Beijing rolled out its most aggressive stimulus measures so far  in mid-May  in hopes of restoring confidence.

In major cities, new-home prices fell 4.3% in May compared with a year earlier, worse than a   3.5% decline in April, according to data released Monday by China’s National Bureau of Statistics. Prices in China’s secondhand home market tumbled 7.5%, compared with a 6.8% drop in April.

Home sales by value tumbled 30.5% in the first five months of this year compared with the same months last year.

“This data was certainly on the disappointing side and may ring some alarm bells, as May’s policy support package has not yet translated to a slower decline of housing prices, let alone a stabilisation,” said Lynn Song, chief China economist at ING.

Economists had also been hoping to see a wider recovery this month after Beijing started  rolling out  a planned issuance of 1 trillion yuan, the equivalent of $138 billion, in ultra-long sovereign bonds in May. The funds are designed to help pay for infrastructure and property projects backed by the authorities. Investors  gobbled up  the first batch of these bonds.

Monday’s bundle of economic data, however, underlined how the country still isn’t firing on all cylinders.

Retail sales, a key metric of consumer spending, rose 3.7% in May from a year earlier, compared with 2.3% in April, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. While the trend is heading in the right direction, it is still a relatively subdued level of growth, and below what most economists believe is needed to kick-start a major revival in consumer spending.

The expansion in industrial production—5.6% in May compared with a year earlier—was down from April’s 6.7% increase. Fixed-asset investment growth, of which 40% came from property and infrastructure sectors, also decelerated, to 3.5% year-over-year growth in May from 3.6% in April.

Key to the sluggish economic activity data in May—and China’s outlook going forward—is the crisis in the property market, which has proven hard for policymakers to address.

The property rescue package in May included letting local governments buy up unsold homes, removing minimum interest rates on mortgages, and reducing payments for potential home buyers. It also included as its centerpiece a $41 billion so-called re-lending program launched by the People’s Bank of China, which would provide funding to Chinese banks to support home purchases by state-owned firms.

The hope was that by stepping in as a buyer of last resort for millions of properties, the government would manage to mop up unsold housing inventory and persuade wary home buyers to re-enter the market. In turn, Chinese consumers, who have  most of their wealth  tied up in real estate, would feel more confident about spending again, thereby lifting the overall economy.

But the size of the re-lending program wasn’t big enough to convince home buyers, said Larry Hu , chief China economist at Macquarie Group. “Meanwhile, their income outlook also stays weak given the current economic condition,” he said.

For the property market to bottom out and reach a new equilibrium, mortgage rates, which stand at around 3-4% in China, need to be as low as rental yields, which are currently below 2% in major cities, said Zhaopeng Xing, a senior China strategist at ANZ. He said that a large mortgage rate cut will need to happen eventually.

The other key part of China’s push to revive growth revolves around the manufacturing sector, with leaders  funnelling more investment  into factories to boost output and reduce the country’s reliance on foreign suppliers of key technologies.

The result has been a surge in production. But with domestic consumption not strong enough to absorb all those goods, many factories have been forced to cut prices and seek out more overseas buyers.

Data released earlier this month showed that  Chinese exports rose  faster in May than the month before.

However, the export push is  butting into resistance  as governments around the world worry about the impact of cheap Chinese competition on domestic jobs and industries. The European Union last week said it would  impose new import tariffs  on Chinese electric vehicles, describing China’s auto industry as heavily subsidised by the government, to the point where other countries’ automakers can’t fairly compete.

The U.S.  has also hit  Chinese cars and some other products with hefty duties, while countries including Brazil, India and Turkey have opened antidumping investigations into Chinese steel, chemicals and other goods.

Beijing says such moves are protectionist and that its industries compete fairly with global rivals.