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China tech

China's Nasdaq-style market sputters 3 months after launch

Hastily launched Xi's pet project leaves investors stuck with losses

The STAR market is adding companies quickly, but many are trading below their first-day close.   © Reuters

SHANGHAI -- Most stocks listed on China's Nasdaq-style market are stuck in the doldrums three months after the bourse's launch, highlighting the challenge of a government-led effort to create a vibrant trading venue.

The number of companies on the Science and Technology Innovation Board, or STAR, has grown to 34 from 25 since the market launched July 22. Though all are trading above their public offering prices, 27 of the stocks -- or 79% -- are below the closing price from their first day of trading.

Bright Power Semiconductor, which just listed on Oct. 14, closed at 77.02 yuan Thursday, down almost 30% from its first-day close. The manufacturer had postponed its listing after being sued in July on patent infringement claims by a Chinese company.

It is generally a difficult stock to invest in given the company's problems, including its rising accounts receivable, said an official at a local brokerage.

Most stocks surged after debuting on the STAR market, and the widely held belief that investing in initial public offerings is always profitable remains intact. But many investors who bought shares after IPOs are saddled with losses.

Turnover is declining as well, with daily trading value averaging 6 billion yuan ($848 million) since October compared with 48.5 billion yuan on July 22.

The STAR market came into existence just eight months after Xi called for its creation in November 2018. Yet this impressive speed does not mean promising companies that drive innovation are born out of thin air in the process.

The standard method of nurturing a bourse involves spending time and money to attract promising businesses. But authorities here seem to be chasing numbers. Xu Yilin, deputy general manager of the Shanghai Stock Exchange, which runs the STAR market, said that the number of listed companies could reach 50 in November and 100 by the end of the year.

Such an approach does not necessarily serve the interests of investors. The market instead serves more as an instrument to facilitate a flow of money into industries that the government hopes to nurture.

Truly promising startups likely have already listed in the U.S., Hong Kong or the established bourses in mainland China. If STAR does reach 100 companies in just a year after the market was announced but their share prices are lackluster, the undertaking could be criticized for pushing unprepared companies to go public in haste.

Almost half of the companies listed on STAR have price-earnings ratios topping 100, or their ratios cannot be calculated because the businesses are bleeding red ink, Chinese financial services company Shanghai DZH says.

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