Canadian Manufacturing

Don’t sweat China’s dramatic stock sell-off just yet: economist

Finance professor Stephen Foerster says the danger comes if the Chinese stock slump marks bigger problems in the economy



TORONTO—Experts say Canadians don’t need to worry about China’s plunging stock markets affecting their retirement portfolio in the short term, but a potential slowdown in an economy hungry for natural resources could spell long-term trouble.

While the Greek debt crisis has grabbed many headlines, in the last month the Shanghai Composite Index has lost nearly a third of its value.

Finance professor Stephen Foerster of Western University’s Ivey School of Business says the sell-off won’t necessarily have a big impact on Canadian investors.

Canadians buy more goods from China than vice versa, he said, so even if Chinese consumers have less money to spend because of stock market losses it won’t have a major effect on exports.

“We have a substantial trade deficit,” he said. “From a Canadian perspective, it’s less of an impact compared with if the trade balance were the other way.”

On Wednesday, the Chinese securities regulator warned of a “panic sentiment” among investors as Beijing scrambled to halt the slide, buying up shares through state-owned companies and promising support for brokerages reeling from the sell-off.

Despite the recent losses, the Shanghai index is still up more than 70 per cent from the same time last year.

“It shouldn’t be a surprise when markets perhaps tend to get ahead of themselves and there is in retrospect what might have been a bubble,” Foerster said.

Despite the importance of China’s economy in the world markets, Foerster said its stock exchanges have relatively minor weight here as many Chinese companies are listed overseas.

What Canadians should fear, Foerster said, is if the Chinese stock market slump marks bigger problems in the economy.

“If this is a harbinger of a slowdown in the Chinese economy, which could therefore lead to a decline in commodities, that’s where it could impact on Canada,” he said. “Rather than a short-term drop where Chinese stock prices perhaps in retrospect were over-inflated, this could have more of a long-term impact on Canadian resource-based companies.”

Paul Evans, an expert on China at the University of British Columbia, said there is no sign that China’s stock market woes have spilled over into other sectors of the economy.

“The sky is not falling,” said Evans, a professor of Asian and trans-Pacific international relations. “While there’s downturn and this is significant, China’s economy is not on the edge of collapse.”

Even if China’s overall growth rate declines by as much as a couple of percentage points, he said, it will still be a global economic player.

The Vancouver real estate market also shouldn’t worry about Chinese investment drying up any time soon, he added.

“The kinds of people who are losing in the stock market right now are not the kinds of people who were moving assets offshore.”

-With files from Mike Blanchfield in Ottawa

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