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The number every China stock investor's watching as rout deepens


[LONDON] Of all the numbers and superlatives used to describe the rout in China's stock market, the one that is starting to gain more attention is 2,500.

That's where China's main stocks gauge, the Shanghai Composite Index, may find a bottom, according to Hao Hong of Bocom International Holdings Co, one of the few who predicted the start and peak of China's equity boom. He says the gauge would regain its investment appeal over government bonds when it reaches that point. For Shanghai Bingsheng Asset Management, the level will spur the government to marshal its spending power and stand against sellers.

As the US$5.7 trillion Chinese equity market continues to tumble, the 2,500 level would represent declines of 9 per cent from Tuesday's close and about 50 per cent from the seven-year high reached in June. Signs are growing that stability in China is key to the return of calm in the global markets. Tandem moves between the Shanghai measure and the MSCI All-Country World Index that tracks benchmarks in developed and emerging markets reached a five-year high this month.

"The 2,500 level is one that's psychologically important to investors," said Li Jingyuan, general manager at Shanghai Bingsheng Asset Management. "I don't see too much room for a decline from the current level. The government will intervene at this stage. Because if they don't do it, the market will have no confidence at all." Concerns about accelerating capital outflows from China and the slowest economic growth since 1990 are driving the Shanghai Composite toward levels not seen since the measure began a debt-fuelled surge in late 2014. The government intervention that helped arrest further declines last year has been less apparent this year, with Chinese equities back in their second bear market in seven months and volatility climbing.

China's market turmoil has reverberated around the world in 2016, helping wipe out more than US$6 trillion from equity values. Global stocks are heading for their worst monthin 3 1/2 years amid waning confidence about the Chinese government's ability to stabilize the economy with its supportive policies.

The following are the views of analysts and strategists on where they see the Shanghai Composite is headed:

* Hong, the chief China strategist at Bocom International in Hong Kong, says the difference between the earnings yield of shares and bond yields will tend to increase toward its historical highs. That would translate into a level of around 2,500 for the Shanghai gauge.

"While I think the national team could be buying again here and there, it should now be realized that its buying cannot change the trend of weakening fundamentals. I am still seeing 2,500 for now. We will decide again whether this level will hold when we come to it. Situation is in flux."

* Mari Oshidari, a Tokyo-based senior strategist at Okasan Securities Group Inc: "Shanghai Composite's 2,500 would be a level we saw during the start of a bull market. In such strong downward pressure, you can't say shares will stop falling beyond that level, but investors will focus on it. Beyond 2,500, the possibility of state intervention will increase, though that would mean it would take longer for the market to normalize."

* William Wong, head of sales trading at Shenwan Hongyuan Group Co in Hong Kong: "Sentiment is very weak ahead of the Chinese New Year amid the concern over capital outflows and currency risk. No effective supportive levels in the near term; 2,500 would be the next support level for Shanghai Composite. Watch out for more panic selling."

* Liu Xiaolong, portfolio manager at GF Fund Management: "The global economy is already doing very poorly, the market's expectation of a crisis is already built in. A big drop occurs when there's a big gap with expectation. I see the Shanghai Composite at 2,500 and ChiNext at 1,500 to be solid bottoms, and the usual bottom range is about 10-20 per cent above those levels."