The COVID wave in China is hitting the trading floors of Beijing, the financial center of Shanghai

SHANGHAI (Reuters) – COVID-19 is rampaging through Beijing trading floors and rapidly spreading in Shanghai’s financial hub, with illness and absences thinning out already light trading and forcing regulators to cancel a weekly meeting scrutinizing public share sales.

Many banks and asset managers have dusted off plans devised to deal with previous COVID crises, injecting a new layer of unpredictability into currency and equity markets, where the outlook is clouded by a rocky exit from strict health restrictions.

With mass testing halted after abruptly dropping the zero-COVID policy earlier this month, official records no longer reliably record new case numbers. Internal investigations by several major asset managers and banks suggest that more than half of their employees in Beijing, the epicenter of the virus wave, have tested positive.

“I would say more than half of colleagues in Beijing are sick, compared to 5%-10% in Shanghai,” said a fund manager at PICC Asset Management, who declined to be named because he is not authorized to speak to the media. to talk.

In China’s interbank market, average daily yuan/dollar trading volume fell to around $20 billion last week, the lowest level since April 2022, when Shanghai was placed under painful lockdown for two months to prevent the spread of the virus.

Stock trading volume also declined last week. The weekly total of 139 billion shares traded for the Shanghai Composite was slightly lower than the three-year average of about 143 billion.

Most currency traders in Beijing are absent from offices, so “trading volume would naturally decline,” said a trader at a government borrower, speaking on condition of anonymity as they are not authorized to discuss such matters with the media.

The bank has asked every employee who lives with people with a fever or who has tested positive not to come to the office. “Remote trading does not solve the problem of being sick in bed, and you also have your family to take care of,” said the trader.

DISRUPTION

The pandemic is also impacting initial public offerings (IPOs), with the China Securities Regulatory Commission canceling a weekly meeting last week to vet them. It is not clear whether the meeting will be revived this week.

The National Bureau of Statistics also canceled a press conference scheduled for November economic data.

Certainly, years of strict COVID rules have left many companies well placed to deal with disruptions.

“We travel a lot and we have different people on one IPO project, so we take turns when a banker is on sick leave,” said a banker from Haitong Securities, based in Shanghai, on condition of anonymity.

Yet the situation ahead is without much precedent as the virus begins to spread far and wide.

“We have a backup and recovery contingency plan in place and have revived backup offices in two locations, just like we did during the Shanghai lockdown in April and May,” said a senior trader at a Chinese bank in Shanghai.

“We are doing everything we can, as this wave of infections and the situation should be the worst since the first half of 2020.”

(Reporting by Samuel Shen, Winni Zhou and Brenda Goh; editing by Tom Westbrook and Kenneth Maxwell)

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