June 22, 2024
Investors

Hong Kong Stocks Sink as China’s Economy Scares Investors


China’s No. 2 leader, Li Qiang, traveled to Switzerland with a message for the titans of the business world gathered for the World Economic Forum.

“Choosing the Chinese market is not a risk, but an opportunity,” Mr. Li, China’s premier, told an audience in Davos on Tuesday.

But there’s a different sentiment about China playing out in the stock market and it’s not so optimistic. The worries over China’s economy have been visible for months in Hong Kong, where stocks plunged 14 percent last year, the fourth consecutive annual decline.

The new year hasn’t offered any relief, either, and economic data released by China on Wednesday prompted another sell-off.

In Hong Kong, where many of China’s biggest companies trade, stocks fell 3.7 percent on Wednesday. So far this year, the market has lost one-tenth of its value. In China’s financial capital of Shanghai, stocks dropped 2.1 percent, extending this year’s decline to nearly 5 percent.

Even as China said its economy grew by 5.2 percent in 2023, which is high by most standards, it is undergoing massive change. China’s leaders are trying to wean the country off property and construction, which have long been pillars of growth, while also reducing reliance on borrowed money.

An anticipated boom in consumption after China reversed its “zero-Covid” policy in late 2022 hasn’t played out, either.

A shrinking population and aging work force are adding to the headwinds. China on Wednesday also said that its population shrank by 2 million people and was aging rapidly, putting further strain on its already-weak health care system and underfunded state pension.

While China’s economy has shown some slight improvement recently, “the recovery clearly remains shaky,” economists at Capital Economics wrote in a report.

Real estate and consumer companies were among the worst hit by the sell-off in Hong Kong, which for years has been a gateway for foreign investors wanting to put money into mainland China. Longfor Group, a Chinese property developer, fell 6.8 percent, while Meituan, the Chinese delivery service, dropped 7 percent.

Stocks in the United States this year so far are flat, while share prices in Japan are surging, up over 6 percent.

Many investors have been looking to China to fire up its economy with a big stimulus like it has in the past during economic stress, but policymakers have said this time is different.

Mr. Qiang reiterated this reluctance in his address at the World Economic Forum. “We have held to avoiding major stimulus,” he said, “and have not sought short-term growth at the price of accumulating long-term risks.”



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