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article imageChina's timeless mom-and-pop investors 'endure' as stocks gyrate

By Albee ZHANG (AFP)     Feb 7, 2018 in Business

Much of China's stock trading is conducted remotely via high-tech systems in banks and brokerages or on mobile phones, but the country's masses of mom-and-pop investors still cling to older ways.

In scenes that recall an earlier era, pensioners have gathered as usual this week in the countless public trading rooms at Chinese brokerages, frowning at electronic price boards and chattering tensely as markets tumbled.

"It has dropped so much and I lost 70,000 yuan ($11,000) just yesterday," a 63-year-old woman surnamed Xu said at a branch of Hongta Securities in Shanghai.

Concern was etched on Xu's face as the city's main index fell another 1.82 percent, following a 3.35-percent drop on Tuesday -- dragged down by panic on global markets.

"We were heartbroken yesterday. Our hearts can't stand this," said Xu, who retired from her job at a cement factory two decades ago.

Authorities have taken measures to steady China's stock markets following a 2015 boom-and-bust that devastated the holdings of countless investors and underlined frequent comparisons of the country's markets to casinos.

But elderly retirees still throng trading rooms with riches in their eyes, exclaiming loudly when their favourite stocks tank.

Despite the government's preference for stability, Xu likes the opportunity offered by large price swings -- preferring volatile tech stocks over blue chips like banks or oil giants.

"We don't like these blue chips, they never rise much. Your money is just sitting there doing nothing," she said.

"I have to come. My heart won't calm down if I sit at home."

- 'Everyone is gambling' -

China's silver-haired investors are said to account for the lion's share of stock turnover, often at brokerages like Hongta where prices flash in green or red on big black screens.

While many younger investors trade via mobile phone, at traditional brokerages elderly punters punch in their orders on boxy 1980s-style computer terminals.

Sitting in the rows of plastic chairs and watching the prices flicker is a daily ritual for people like 65-year-old Tang Shunfu.

Tang lost around 250,000 yuan over the past three months as markets whipsawed. His family eventually demanded that he pull out, which he did last week.

To keep calm amid the chaos, Tang -- an amateur calligraphist -- would obsessively write the Chinese character for "endure", which combines the symbols for "knife" and "heart".

The stress also made him quit drinking and has soured his mood. But he still comes regularly to keep an eye on prices.

Investors monitor stock prices on computer screens at a brokerage house in Shanghai
Investors monitor stock prices on computer screens at a brokerage house in Shanghai
Johannes EISELE, AFP

"I need to come and keep an eye on it. I’m not beaten. I want to make my money back," Tang said animatedly.

"Our market is like a casino. Chinese like to gamble. Look at all these people: man, woman, young, old, everyone is gambling."

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