Stymied at home, Korea’s mom and pop investors charge into China tech stocks

South Korean traders monitor exchange rates in a trading room at KEB Hana Bank in Seoul on March 9, 2020.

Jung Yeon-Je | AFP | Getty Images

South Korean retail investors are stampeding into Chinese stocks in record numbers, ploughing hundreds of millions of dollars into a tech sector rush far removed from punishing taxes and regulations on investment at home.

In July alone, South Korean investors spent $240 million buying shares in mainland China, data from the Korea Securities Depository showed – their largest investment in mainland markets on record.

That’s a seven-fold jump from $32.9 million in July last year, and accounts for a third of the total $719 million net investment in China stocks for the January to July period.

While South Korean mom and pop investors have historically been big risk-takers, they have stepped up the hunt for assets overseas as the Korean government imposes stringent mortgage rules and proposals to impose capital gains tax on local stocks.

Among them is Kim, a 40-year-old Seoul chef with more invested than 500 million won – nearly half a million dollars – in Chinese stocks. Like others, Kim, who declined to given his forename, is betting on Beijing’s push for tech self-sufficiency to counter U.S. trade sanctions and bans.

“It is true that interest in Chinese stocks has increased more than ever, driven by tightened regulations on domestic stocks and a boom in the China market unseen since 2015,” said Kim.

The United States remains a top destination for investors like Kim, with Korean investments there a net $2.27 billion in July, followed by $475 million in Hong Kong, out of a total $3.19 billion of overseas stock buying.

But they are also being lured by the promise of China’ speedy economy recovery from the coronavirus pandemic and its rising stock market – China’s tech-heavy start-up board ChiNext and its STAR Market are up about 40% each this year.

Overseas stocks make up about 80% of Kim’s equity holdings, with 90% of that chunk allotted to China and the rest to U.S. equities. Kim plans to park all his equity investments overseas, and is particularly bullish on the Chinese economy and mainland companies with high growth potential.

KSD data showed six of the 10 top Chinese companies that Korean investors bought between January and July were tech companies, with Shennan Circuits, a supplier to giant tech firm Huawei supplier, taking the lead with $55.36 million net.

ZTE was also high on the Korean investment list, along with Inspur Electronic Information Technology, Will Semiconductor and Luxshare Precision Industry.

The average year-to-date performance of those six shares shows a spurt of 32%, compared with declines of 0.7% and 23.7% respectively for Korean tech heavyweights Samsung Electronics and SK Hynix.

What’s more, the broader Shanghai Composite index is up 10.3%, while Seoul’s KOSPI benchmark has gained only 3.8%.

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