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Shanghai can't find domestic help -- the maids are out day-trading

Section: Daily Dispatches

China's New Day-Traders Look to Back 'Black Horses'

By Geoff Dyer
Financial Times, London
Wednesday, May 23, 2007

SHANGHAI -- The thousands of ordinary Chinese who are signing up each day to trade shares are not too concerned about the conventional ways of valuing a stock, but they need to know the difference between a ghost and a black horse.

Chinese have combined a traditional delight in word-play with their new-found passion for stocks to create a rich supply of colloquial jargon for investing that is bandied around brokerage offices.

"Ghost shares" are highly risky, but "black horses" have beaten expectations. Buying cheap to sell high later is known as "fighting for the hat," while selling at a loss to avoid further losses is "meat slicing." Investors who think a piece of news will boost prices claim to be "lifting the sedan chair."

When a fund manager was sacked last week for allegedly manipulating share prices, websites hummed with talk of "rat investors," the term for insider traders.

There is even a Chinese phrase that could define the current boom. On top of bulls and bears there is the "deer market", when large groups of amateur, short-term speculators cause markets to move in erratic jolts.

The jargon is being quickly learned by the long lines of new day-traders who have helped push share prices up 52 percent this year -- on top of last year's 130 percent rise -- but who are making the market look increasingly overvalued.

Despite an interest rate rise on Friday aimed at cooling the market, retail investors ignored the messages from Beijing and opened 287,000 trading accounts on Monday, 35,000 more than on Friday.

The explosion in day-trading has created some unintended consequences in Shanghai in the form of unwashed dinner dishes, badly ironed shirts, and dusty floors. In recent weeks the city has developed a shortage of ayis, the domestic helpers who do chores in the homes of middle-class families, because some have found more gainful employment playing the market.

Sheng Min, who runs a Shanghai agency that recruits ayis, says it started to face problems finding new domestic helpers in April because of the stock market fever and now has 50 percent fewer women on its books than usual.

"We occasionally receive phone calls from employers complaining about their ayis," he says. "Some of them seem to be more interested in chatting about stocks with their friends than working."

Zhang Wei works most weekday mornings in houses around the city, but recently she has been visiting a brokerage in Shanghai's Hongkou district in the afternoons. "Last month I made almost half my salary from investing," she says.

With an eye on the new day-traders, an advertisement was placed on the Taobao auction site last week selling doctors' certificates for one month off work for 100 renminbi ($13, 9.70 euros, £6.60). It has since been removed.

Cynics would say speculator-ayis are a sure sign of a bubble, but if everyone continues buying, prices will keep going up -- even in a deer market.

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