The CSI 300 Index (of the 300 largest stocks traded on the Shanghai Stock Exchange) plunged as much as 9.1% on Monday morning as the Shanghai Stock Exchange opened for trading for the first time since January 23. By 10:15 a.m. Monday in Shanghai (9:15 p.m. in New York on Sunday) the index had recovered so that it was only 7.2% lower. Before the start of trading some Wall Street guesstimates had suggested that the index would drop 6% on Monday. China’s benchmark iron ore contract fell by its daily limit of 8%, while copper, crude and palm oil also sank by the maximum allowed. The yield on China’s most actively traded 10-year government bonds dropped the most since 2014. The yuan tumbled 1% to weaken past the closely watch 7 yuan to the dollar level.
The drop came even as the People’s Bank of China poured liquidity into the markets. The People’s Bank added 1.2 trillion yuan to the markets. Of that 900 billion yuan ($129 billion) was in the form of seven-day reverse repurchase agreements. Another 300 billion yuan were injected as 14-day contracts.
The 1.2 trillion yuan ($171 billion) is certainly a lot of cash, but the net impact is significantly smaller since more than 1 trillion yuan in short-term funds are due to mature on Monday. The net injection then is just 150 billion yuan or $21 billion.
The Shanghai market is also significantly different than U.S. markets in ways that make an big reaction to the coronavirus more likely. Chinese markers are dominated by retail investors (about 85% of trading is done by individual investors.) These are exactly those investors who are increasingly angry at the government over the way that–again as in the 2002-2003 SARS epidemic–officials covered up the emergence of the virus. Which, of course, leads to well-deserved skepticism about government counts of infected patients and the national death total. Institutions and computer traders who might provide a little stability–or maybe, who knows, make trading even more volatile–have relatively little influence in China’s mainland stock markets.