BEIJING (AP) — Beijing on Wednesday replaced the head of the China Securities Regulatory Commission in an apparent effort to restore confidence in the stock market following major losses in domestic share prices.
A brief statement from the official Xinhua News Agency said Wu Qing, a banking industry veteran and former vice mayor of the financial hub of Shanghai, was taking the Communist Party and government positions formerly held by Yi Huiman.
Chinese stocks sank Monday to 5-year lows despite a pledge by market regulators to crack down on stock price manipulation and “malicious short selling.” The markets in Shanghai and its smaller partner in Shenzhen near Hong Kong have languished on heavy selling of property shares, which are undergoing major uncertainty with a plunge in the real estate market.
Top Chinese shares fell by 11.4% last year, while Hong Kong’s index sank by nearly 14%. The ailing economy prompted thousands of people to vent their frustrations on the U.S. Embassy’s social media site by adding comments about the stock market’s woes to a seemingly unrelated post about protection of giraffes, reflecting the narrow scope for expression in China’s Communist Party-controlled media environment.
Major players in the housing and construction field that fed China’s dynamic growth over recent decades have accumulated massive debts, making them unable to deliver apartments to buyers who have already paid for them with their lifesavings, as well as to repay banks and investors.
The International Monetary Fund has forecast that China’s economy will expand 4.6% this year, down from 5.2% in 2023. It noted that housing starts had fallen more than 60% from pre-pandemic levels after a crackdown on excessive borrowing that began in 2020.
That’s a pace “only seen in the largest housing busts in cross-country experience in the last three decades,” it said.
China is moving to increase the supply of affordable housing and spur demand, just weeks before top officials gather in Beijing for the annual meeting of the national congress, a time when the Communist Party seeks to showcase its leadership and set new financial targets.
That image has been tarnished in recent years by an erratic and often heavy-handed approach to COVID-19, including monthslong lockdowns that drastically restricted travel and work for tens of millions of people. The crash of the property sector and high unemployment among educated young people have been exacerbated by a shortage of labor in manufacturing and a sharp drop in the birthrate. China, once the world’s most populous nation, relinquished that title to India last year and the pace of urbanization has slowed as the ranks of the elderly have expanded.
The real estate industry’s woes have been highlighted by an order by a Hong Kong court for the liquidation of China Evergrande, the world’s most heavily indebted developer with more than $300 billion in liabilities.
China’s property sector accounts for nearly a third of the country’s economic activity and the industry-wide meltdown has weighed on growth and sapped the confidence of both investors and consumers. Many developers are insolvent but are avoiding bankruptcy because accounting rules allow them to delay booking losses on their loans.
The government recently expanded access to loans to help developers recover from the downturn.
Home ownership in China has vastly expanded over the past few decades after a sweeping housing reform that gave workers ownership of homes that were previously assigned to them by the state-owned companies and agencies that once employed most city dwellers in the formerly centrally planned economy.
The home ownership rate in China is about 90%, much higher than in many Western countries.