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Fear Spreads as China's Finance Firms Face Arrests

The high-drama highway arrest of a prominent hedge fund manager. Seizures of computers and phones at Chinese mutual funds. The investigations of the president of Citic Securities Co. and at least six other employees. Now, add the probe of China’s former gatekeeper of the IPO process himself.

The arrests or investigations targeting the finance industry in the aftermath of China’s summer market crash have intensified in recent weeks, creating a climate of fear among China’s finance firms and chilling their investment strategies. At least 16 people have been arrested, are being investigated or have been taken away from their job duties to assist authorities, according to statements and announcements compiled by Bloomberg News.

Yao Gang, vice chairman of China Securities Regulatory Commission

The authorities’ goal is to root out practices such as insider trading as part of China’s anti-corruption campaign, and a desire by "some in the political leadership to find scapegoats to blame" for the market crash, according to Barry Naughton, a professor of Chinese economy at the University of California in San Diego.

“Together these are creating uncertainty and anxiety that can only undermine the effort to make these markets work better,” he said by e-mail.

New Products

Chinese authorities have long encouraged funds and brokerages to create new investment products to keep the finance industry along a development path. Now that’s been halted by regulators’ raids, arrests by police and anti-corruption investigations of even regulators themselves by the Communist Party’s disciplinary committee. JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Credit Suisse Group AG have scaled back products that allowed foreign investors to bet on stock declines. At least one Chinese research firm has withdrawn information it used to provide to the market, calling it "too sensitive."

The government’s response to the market crash was intervention: state-directed purchases of shares, a ban on initial public offerings and restrictions on previously allowed practices, such as short selling and trading in stock-index futures. Next, high-ranking industry figures came under scrutiny as officials investigated trading strategies, decried “malicious short sellers” and vowed to “purify” the market.

Policy makers say “now we’re innovating, so you can all come in -- using high-frequency trading, hedging, whatever -- to play in our markets,” Gao Xiqing, a former vice chairman of the China Securities Regulatory Commission, told a forum in Beijing on Nov. 6. “A few days later, you say no, the rules we made are not right, there are problems with your trading, and we’re putting you in jail for a while first.”

‘Hardly Predictable’

“That makes our markets hardly predictable -- such rules won’t bring stability,” said Gao, who later led China’s sovereign wealth fund and now teaches at Beijing-based Tsinghua...


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