(Bloomberg) -- The marked underperformance of Chinese equities last month came as investors showed they are in no hurry to either or buy or sell the nation’s stocks, leading to some of the calmest market swings in years.
The highest level that the MSCI China Index reached in November was only four points above its low for the month, data compiled by Bloomberg show. That trading range is tighter than those for all but three months since the start of 2018.
Another metric also indicates that the once turbulent Chinese stock market has calmed down. The MSCI China Index’s 90-day volatility has dropped below 22%, a reading close to its lowest levels since early 2022. That coincides with quieter trading in US stocks, with the Cboe Volatility Index trading near a 2020 low.
The relative chill signals that even as the market heads for its third-straight annual loss, investors aren’t in a rush to turn more positive on Chinese stocks, with the economy bogged down by a lasting slump in the housing sector. On the other hand, the data indicate that investors aren’t adding much to bearish bets either, as officials step up policy support.
“There’s still a lot of pessimism — there’s still a wait-and-see attitude” among investors, said James Fletcher, founder of Ethos Investment Management in Salt Lake City. “We’re just not seeing foreign participation coming back in a meaningful way. And we’re not seeing significant local participation.”
Actively managed global mutual fund exposure to Chinese stocks is at around the lowest level in the past decade, according to a Goldman Sachs report in October. US and European fund managers have been selling Chinese and Hong Kong shares since March, resulting in the largest cumulative outflow since 2018, data compiled by Morgan Stanley showed.
Turnover is also eerily serene in the A-share market, where trading is dominated by domestic investors. Since September, there were only three days, or 5% of all sessions, when the value of traded shares exceeded one trillion yuan ($140 billion). In contrast, one-third of the 242 sessions last year saw daily turnover breaching that threshold.
Such placid days are rare in the China market after two years of extreme turbulence. Beijing’s clampdown on private enterprises in 2021 had kept investors on edge, and volatility spiked even higher last year amid jitters over lengthy Covid lockdowns and an audit dispute between US and China.
The MSCI China Index swung more than 20 points in March last year, when concerns over China’s close ties with Russia triggered a historic selloff, and in July 2021, when the government banned education tech companies from making profits.
Traders looking for economic or corporate earnings catalysts have been disappointed, with recent readings decidedly mixed. Macro data suggest a pickup in consumer activity but a deepening contraction in property investment. Aggregate third-quarter sales from MSCI China companies declined by more than 4% from a year ago and missed analyst estimates.
The tepid trading in Chinese markets reflects that “anemic economic backdrop,” said Vivian Lin Thurston, a portfolio manager for William Blair Investment Management in Chicago. Despite low valuations, the timing of a comeback in Chinese shares is hard to predict, “given the cyclical recovery can be very moderate and very gradual,” she said.
--With assistance from Zhu Lin.
©2023 Bloomberg L.P.