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Chinese hunt 'once-in-a-lifetime' deals as Xiongan fever endures

Wednesday, April 19, 2017 - 11:02

xiongan.jpg
Tombs are seen in the field on the outskirts of Rongcheng county, one part of the new special economic zone Xiong'an New Area, Hebei province, China on April 6, 2017.

[BEIJING] As Jiang Yunhai sees it, a random investment 14 years ago could be the most fortuitous decision he's ever made.

The Beijing resident bought the Internet domain xiongan.com in 2003 before forgetting all about it - until two weeks ago.

That's when China unveiled plans to create a new economic zone two hours drive southwest of the capital. The area, hyped as an innovation-driven heir to Shenzhen, is called Xiongan, an amalgam of the names of the three counties that now fall within its borders.

Jiang listed the website address for sale online with a price tag of 1.88 million yuan (S$381,400). He says he's received more than 1,000 messages from interested buyers.

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"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," Mr Jiang said by phone. "If the new area is developed well enough, there's probably room for further increases in the price of this domain."

Others agree: Chinese investors are embracing anything and everything Xiongan. The government had to halt property sales in what is still primarily a farming area as would-be real estate moguls descended on the region after the announcement.

They've flocked to the stock market too, with shares of companies headquartered in Beijing, the neighbouring city of Tianjin and Hebei province - where Xiongan is located - soaring since the news.

Fourteen of the 20 best-performing Shanghai-listed stocks this month are based in Beijing, Tianjin or Hebei, and five of them had to suspend trading for at least two days after surging by the daily limit every trading session after the Xiongan plans were revealed.

The combined market value of the 15 top equities headquartered around the new area has surged by 139 billion yuan since the announcement, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Buyers even ignored companies' attempts to damp the frenzy. Baoding Tianwei Baobian Electric, a Hebei-based electrical equipment maker, jumped by the Shanghai exchange's daily 10 per cent limit for six days until the shares were suspended last Thursday, even after saying it didn't own any assets in the new area.

Likewise, Tangshan Port Group Co, which is also headquartered in Hebei, jumped 33 per cent over three days despite stating it had no business in Xiongan.

"This reflects a classic characteristic of the A-share market - some investors overreact right after major news is announced," said Ben Bei, director of Hong Kong and China strategy at CIMB Securities.

"The broad advance in Xiongan-related stocks is not sustainable and there will be divergence among those names as there's still many uncertainties ahead."

This isn't the first once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to captivate Chinese investors. Shanghai-based firms surged amid record volumes after the free-trade zone there was announced in 2013.

The recent gains are also reminiscent of the IPO mania that took hold in Hong Kong in the late 1990s, as investors in the city rushed to buy shares in mainland Chinese companies.

Some see Xiongan as President Xi Jinping's baby.

WAITING GAME

While buying in to the plans makes sense as the Xiongan will receive a lot of government support, investors need to be patient, says Gao Ting, head of China strategy at UBS Securities Co. in Shanghai.

"We won't likely see the development reflected in related companies' earnings in 12 months, and need to wait 15 to 20 years to see if it can be turned into a big city like Shenzhen as many investors are anticipating," he said.

Companies enlisted in the initial stages, like water services providers and steelmakers, should be the first to benefit from the new zone, followed some time later by real estate firms, said Frank Lee, acting chief investment officer for North Asia at DBS Bank (HK) Ltd.

"I'm optimistic about the firms which will play a core role in Xiongan in the coming five years," he said. "But as this round of investment frenzy abates after the sudden surge, it would be normal to see most new zone-related stocks to drop an average of eight-to-10 per cent amid a correction."

PULLING BACK

The market is already showing signs of fatigue.

Shares of Lingyun Industrial Corp, a Zhuozhou City, Hebei-based auto parts manufacturer, and Langfang Development Co, which has the same name as a prefecture that borders the new economic zone, have been pulling back after soaring at least 6 per cent every day between April 5 - the first trading day after the announcement - and April 11.

A lack of follow-up detail and government efforts to curb investors' enthusiasm is also weighing on the boom. The Shanghai exchange warned on Friday that quick declines usually follow such speculative equity rallies.

Jiang Yunhai, the owner of xiongan.com, is also switching to the long game. Unhappy with some of the the bids he received, he's mulling making use of the website himself.

"I want to know more about the government's plans - I live in Beijing and I own this domain so I may be able to make some good use of it sometime in the future," Mr Jiang said. "I may move to Xiongan with my family one day."

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