Rats & black mouths gnaw at Chinas stock market

Written by Reuters | Shanghai | Updated: Sep 30 2011, 09:17am hrs
Even before China's great stock market bull run of 2006-2007, Wang Jianzhong had become known as China's "god of stocks" for his prescient picks.

Such was his influence at the market's peak that reports by his company, Beijing Shoufang Investment Consulting, republished in dozens of influential newspapers and websites, were themselves often cited as a reason for a particular share price rising.

By late 2006, it was generally expected that whichever companies Wang recommended in his columns would be among the biggest gainers the next trading day in the Shanghai and Shenzhen markets.

Wang knew it as well, and put that knowledge to use. Between January 2007 and May 2008, Wang bought shares in 38 companies, wrote reports on them, and then unloaded the stocks after his recommendations helped lift their share prices. In 55 separate transactions during that time, Wang earned $19.5 million, according to regulators.

He was sentenced in August to seven years in prison and fined 125 million yuan, on top of having illicit earnings of the same amount confiscated.

While his case went hardly noticed in the Western media, Wang is now known as China's most famous black moutha Chinese expression for a commentator who manipulates the market by talking up companies in which they have taken stakes.

Wangs case is just one high-profile example of widespread wrongdoing in Chinas capital markets, according industry insiders interviewed. The shady practices not only hurt millions of retail investors but create challenges for the foreign money managers and investment banks that invest their clients' cash in mainland Chinese equities.

Employees of Chinese brokerages, fund managers, and company executives are among those engaged in illicit activities, ranging from falsifying numbers on listing prospectuses to insider trading, the industry sources said.

These disclosures about how the markets are being manipulated follow a Reuters investigation into accounting fraud at Chinese companies listed in North American exchanges.

One of the most common of the illegal stock trading practices is including false figures for revenue and other data on IPO prospectuses, said one senior manager with a brokerage firm based in eastern China.

"It's just a bunch of bosses meeting up and filling in the forms. 'What kind of price do you want We'll get you that price,'" said the source. "Often it's because someone's kid is doing a certain business, so if I help him with an IPO now, he might help me with something else."

Another practice involves collusion between company executives and major institutional investors. They get together ahead of a planned secondary share offering, and agree to ensure the company's share price performs well enough to attract demand for the offering.

The investors then dump the shares after the offering when the share price has reached a high enough level. Along the way, commentators help talk up the stock among retail investors amid well-timed releases of positive news on the company, said another industry source, again on condition of anonymity.

The sheer amount of effort the China Securities Regulatory Commission (CSRC) has devoted to combating the problem of insider trading is one indication of the extent of the problem.

The regulator said in a statement on its website (www.csrc.gov.cn) this month that it had taken on 83 new cases of market malpractice in the first half of this year, including 45 cases of insider trading.

RATS NESTS

The misuse of private trading accounts by mutual fund managers is a practice, which like that of "black mouths", is common enough to have been given a colorful nickname in Chinese: "rat trading". The rats are fund managers who buy securities in their own personal trading account ahead of large purchases of the same security by their fund house, hoping to profit from a rise in the share price from their firm's larger transactions.

The CSRC has been especially cracking down on this practice because it is holding back the development of the MFindustry