China's growth barometer

(China Daily)
Updated: 2010-12-17 07:59
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The jaw-dropping fluctuations of the Chinese stock markets over the past two decades have been a rollercoaster ride for many investors.

Yet, as the Shanghai and Shenzhen stock exchanges celebrate their 20th anniversaries this month, we can see that the Chinese stock market has dramatically demonstrated China's rise as a global economic power and reflects, not only the country's long-term growth story, but also the ongoing transformation of China's growth pattern.

China has maintained remarkably fast and stable economic growth for more than three decades, even in the face of the Asian financial crisis in the late 1990s and the ongoing global downturn since late 2008.

However, even for investors who take a bullish view of the Chinese economy, which on average increased by nearly 10 percent a year over the past three decades, the Chinese stock market might have been too volatile and inefficient.

For instance, the benchmark Shanghai Composite Index rocketed from a low of 998.22 in 2005 to a all-time high of 6,124.12 in 2007 before plummeting by more than two thirds the next year.

Such a fluctuation in stock prices means that at the moment few investors judge the domestic stock market to be a meaningful barometer of the Chinese economy.

The lack of sound regulation over the Chinese stock market has resulted in the impression that it is more of a "casino" rather than a market to improve the efficiency of capital allocation to fund growth. Nor did the domestic stock market become an important source of property income for the people as the Chinese authorities had expected.

However, in spite of all its deficiencies, China's stock market has, from scratch and in just two decades, grown into a colossus that boasts more than 2,000 listed companies some of which are among the world's biggest, about 150 million A-share accounts, and a total market value among the global top three.

Admittedly, the market is not yet perfectly regulated and is not efficient and sophisticated enough to underpin China's rise as a global financial powerhouse. But there are still good reasons for optimism.

The introduction of a growth enterprise board last year, the launch of stock index futures this year and recently tightened rules against insider trading are all laying a solid foundation for the domestic stock market to play a greater role in serving China's economic growth and becoming a barometer of its economy.

And by better defending the interest and rights of individual investors, the market can also develop into a place for Chinese people to share the growth of China Inc.

Besides, given what this market has achieved so far, no one should be too surprised if it is opened to fund-raising foreign companies or profit-seeking foreign investors in the future.