In the 1990s, Alan Greenspan, the head of the Fed back then, famously warned against “irrational exuberance” in the US stock market, but did nothing to stop it …this even though he had the ability to cool the market down by tightening the rules on margin lending. This is the stock market analogue to raising or lowering the Fed Funds rate to influence the price of credit, but has never been used seriously in the US during my working life.
The Bank of Japan has no such compunctions. It has been very willing to chasten/encourage speculatively minded retail investors by tightening/loosening the criteria for borrowing money to buy stocks.
We have no real history to generalize from in the case of China. But moves in recent weeks by the Chinese securities markets regulator seem to indicate that Beijing will fall into the stomp-on-the-brakes camp.
–at the end of last month, the regulator allowed (ordered?) domestic mutual funds to invest in shares in Hong Kong, where mainland-listed firms’ shares are trading at hefty discounts to their prices in Shanghai
–highly leveraged “umbrella trusts” cooked up by Chinese banks to circumvent margin eligibility requirements have been banned,
–a new futures product, based on small and mid-cap stocks, has been created, offering speculators the opportunity to short this highly heated sector for the first time, and
–effective today, institutional investors in China are being allowed to lend out their holdings–providing short-sellers with the wherewithal to ply their trade (although legal, short-selling hasn’t been a big feature of domestic Chinese markets until now, because there wasn’t any easy way to obtain share to sell short).
What does all this mean?
The simplest conclusion is that Beijing wants to pop what it sees as a speculative stock market bubble on the mainland. It is possible, however, that more monetary stimulus–to prop up rickety state-owned enterprises or loony regional government-sponsored real estate projects–is in the pipeline and Beijing simply wants to dampen the potential future effects on stocks.
I have no idea which view is correct.
It’s clear, however, that Hong Kong is going to be a port in any storm, and that it is going to be increasingly used as a safety valve to absorb upward market pressure from the mainland. So relative gains vs. Shanghai seem assured. Whether that means absolute gains remains to be seen, although I personally have no inclination to trim my HK holdings.