The most important event in China in five years is about to take place, and Beijing isn't taking any chances.
Ahead of the Communist Party’s twice-a-decade congress - an event so massive that according to Bloomberg "nothing escapes its pull" - which is slated to start on October 18 in Beijing, regulators have made it clear to the nation’s top brokers, bankers and financiers that they don’t want to see any major turbulence in markets.
In a repeat of the fiasco that followed the bursting of China's equity bubble in the summer of 2015 when Beijing effectively nationalized the stock market, and went so far as to throw prominent hedge fund managers and assorted "speculators" in prison, the China Securities Regulatory Commission has ordered local brokerages to "mitigate risks" and ensure stable markets before and during the Communist Party’s leadership congress next month, according to Bloomberg. Additionally, to leave virtually nothing to chance - and to have ready scapegoats in case someone does in fact sell - the CSRC also banned brokerage bosses from taking holidays or leaving the country from Oct. 11 until the congress ends.
Brokerage bosses were told to avoid travel of any kind from Oct. 11 until the congress ends, including business trips.
Luckily for them, China’s national day holidays are coming up in the first week of October. Local markets will be shut for an entire week, providing plenty of time to recharge for the congress.
Since the congress, which is expected to replace about half of China’s top leadership, is of paramount importance to President Xi Jinping who will use it as a foundation to cement his influence into the next decade, nothing is allowed to spoil the optics of supreme control at this critical moment.
And while China routinely takes steps to reduce market swings during key political gatherings, the travel ban on brokerage chiefs illustrates how seriously regulators are taking next month’s meeting, according to Bloomberg.
Still, the news will hardly come as a surprise to most market participants, and explains why Chinese markets have already rallied significantly this year amid expectations of government support, while equity volatility has tumbled to the lowest level in over 2 decades. The Shanghai Composite Index touched a 20-month high on Tuesday, while the yuan has strengthened 6.4% against the dollar this year.
In addition to the travel ban, China's regulator told brokerages and futures companies to check for risks in their liquidity, operations and financial health, effectively warning that it does not want to see any selling. The regulator also ordered firms to assess their information system security and credit risks and report their findings before October, Bloomberg's sources added.
Of course, with so much focus on how effective China will be at keeping its equity markets growing at a steady, controlled pace and avoiding turbulence ahead of the critical summit, anyone hoping to make a political statement against the Xi regime - whether domestically or offshore - could do so simply by causing even a modest market correction sometime in mid-October, especially since even the smallest spike in volatility could lead to a panicked selloff in light of such an unexpected move.