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Mobius says China's irrational stock market is creating bargains

[HONG KONG] When Mark Mobius looks at the wreckage of Chinese stocks traded in Hong Kong, he sees bargains.

The Hang Seng China Enterprises Index plunged 49 per cent from its May high through last week, sending valuations to record lows, as concern over China's economic slowdown and heavy-handed state intervention in mainland financial markets spurred outflows.

"The Chinese market has been reacting irrationally and rather violently, possibly due to heightened speculation derived from the government's actions to influence the market," said Mobius, the Franklin Resources Inc money manager who's been investing in emerging markets for more than four decades.

"Fundamentals in China still remain positive." China's H shares rebounded along with regional stocks on Monday after the yuan jumped the most since a dollar peg was scrapped in 2005. Gains were led by China Longyuan Power Group Corp. and Great Wall Motor Co, the two-worst performing stocks on the gauge this year through Friday with losses in excess of 35 per cent. Even after the advance, only one of the 40 members is up in 2016.

"The market already presents itself with opportunities to pick stocks at a bargain -- companies which have been unduly punished by panicked sell-offs and volatility," Mobius said, declining to name individual stocks.

The Hang Seng China Enterprises index's 4.8 per cent rally on Monday off a six-year low helped propel a gauge of price swings to the highest in five years. The Chinese equity measure traded at 5.6 times reported earnings last week, the lowest since at least 2001, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

The People's Bank of China is stepping up efforts to restore stability to the currency and economy, with Governor Zhou Xiaochuan breaking his long silence to say there's no basis for continued yuan depreciation. The nation's balance of payments is good, capital outflows are normal and the exchange rate is basically stable against a basket of currencies, Zhou said in an interview published Saturday in Caixin magazine.

While buying opportunities are increasing, it's too early to say the broader market will rebound from here, Mobius said.

China's exports declined for a seventh straight month in January and imports plunged 19 per cent, official data showed Monday. The government is targeting an economic expansion in the range of 6.5 per cent to 7 per cent for this year, after recording 6.9 per cent growth in 2015 that was the slowest in 25 years.

"A lot of the negativity is already priced in, but it would be a mistake to call it the bottom since markets tend to go further down or further up than anyone expects," Mobius said. "What we need to do is focus on the individual companies and their ability to weather any economic downturn or even prosper from such downturns."