Enjoy your last few days of calm. China’s mainland financial markets remain closed for the Lunar New Year holiday until February 9. (Exchanges in Taiwan and Vietnam are closed until February 8.)
But if trading in Hong Kong, which resumed today, is any indication, the new year is going to begin with a continuation of the old year’s volatility. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index fell 1.5% today for the worst first day loss for a new year since 2008. That year the index fell 3.6% on the first day of trading.
It looks like traders in Hong Kong were just waiting for the market to reopen so they could react—by selling—to New Year’s speeches by China’s Premier Wen Jiabao. In a February 1 speech Wen pledged to curb property speculation and to increase the supply of affordable housing. Not surprisingly land developers such as China Resources Land and China Overseas Land & Investment were among the biggest losers today in Hong Kong, falling 2.1% and 1.9%, respectively.
While the financial markets were on break Wen also said that a drought in the country’s agricultural areas is likely to cut grain production and that would in turn make it difficult for the government to lower food price inflation.
That fed into fears that because price controls won’t be able to slow price increases the People’s Bank of China, the country’s central bank, will raise interest rates again by March at the latest in an effort to control inflation. Those fears led to declines in the share prices of China’s biggest banks in Hong Kong trading today. Industrial & Commercial Bank of China, the country’s biggest lender by stock market valuation, dropped 1.7% and China Construction Bank, the second largest lender, dropped 1.6%.
Should make for an interesting second half of the week in Chinese financial markets.