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Signals Point to Online Trading Industry Boom in China

(Virtual China News) Online stock trading appears set to take off in China, after a recent government announcement that suggests it will make the practice legal, and moves by several computer and Internet companies that demonstrate a major committment to the business.

If the industry grows in China as it has in the U.S., it would allow mainland brokers to capitalize on increasing numbers of relatively affluent Chinese, and significantly boost capital flow in the cash hungry trading floors of China's two major stock markets, in Shenzhen and Shanghai. Online trading could also significantly stimulate foreign and domestic investment in Chinese enterprises, and thereby boost the national economy.

"It could be very popular," said Jared Peterson, an Asia Pacific analyst at International Data Corporation (IDC), referring to online trading.

On Saturday, Chinese state media said that Beijing will shortly release new regulations concerning online trading, a practice that is now technically illegal in China. However, over the past two years, a number of mainland brokerages have started online trading services for their clients through intranet or internet systems. The authorities have looked the other way.

Explosive Potential

Most experts say Saturday's announcement signals the government's intention legalize, or even to encourage, online trading in the future. The Chinese government has started 2000 with several announcements underlining the importance of Internet-based businesses to China's economic future; the online trading announcement has gained the most attention.

Trading Solutions

While many see the industry's potential, it is currently quite small. There are 40 million investors in China's stock markets, with only about 15,000 of them trading online.

MF Securities, a brokerage that claims it handles two percent of all trading done on the Shanghai and Shenzhen stock exchanges, says 40 percent of the trades it handles are done online, according to Reuters.

If a dramatic reliance on the Internet occurred in China's securities markets, technology companies, domestic and foreign alike, could be expected to profit greatly.

It is unlikely that brokerages would be permitted to own the Internet side of the businesses, however. Online trading solutions will more likely be contracted to technology providers like Shenzhen Prosperity System Co. Ltd., which provides MF Securities with its online operation, and which is part-owned by U.S. telecommunications giant Motorola Inc. (ticker: MOT) and computer maker Intel Corporation (ticker: INTC).

China now has 8.9 million Internet users, and some experts say that number will reach 33 million by 2004. At the end of last year, 949 Chinese enterprises were listed on China's stock exchanges in Shanghai and Shenzhen, either on the A Share index, limited to domestic investment, or the B Share index, which is designated for foreign investment.

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