They have occupied Hong Kong’s central business district, marched by the hundreds of thousands through the territory’s streets and endured tear gas and pepper spray in pitched battles with riot police.
Hong Kong’s pro-democracy supporters are now wielding a new protest weapon: their stock-market trading accounts.
To show support for Jimmy Lai (黎智英), the publisher and outspoken government critic who was on Monday arrested under the territory’s new national security legislation, Hong Kongers have been piling into shares of his media company Next Digital. The result: a more than 1,100 percent surge in two days that propelled the stock to a seven-year high.
“There are a huge number of retail investors buying,” said Castor Pang (彭偉新), head of research at Core Pacific-Yamaichi. “If you just look at the bid-ask price and the size of single trades, most are super small.”
The record gain, organized via online forums, underscores the challenge Chinese and Hong Kong officials face as they try to stamp out the territory’s pro-democracy movement. Residents are turning to alternative forms of protest after policymakers curtailed public demonstrations with social distancing restrictions and the national security legislation.
Buying Next Digital’s stock could in theory help Lai financially, if he or the company decide to sell shares or borrow against holdings.
Lai controls 71 percent of Next Digital, data compiled by Bloomberg showed.
The rally has lifted its market value by about HK$3.7 billion (US$477.4 million).
Lai’s supporters are finding other ways to show solidarity. Local media reported residents lining up to buy copies of his flagship newspaper Apple Daily this morning.
The newspaper said on Facebook that it increased printing to 550,000 copies yesterday due to surging demand, versus about 70,000 copies two weeks ago.
On major online forums such as LIHKG, posters urged people to continue buying the stock as well as copies of Apple Daily.
A post on Next Digital had more than 15 pages of comments as of yesterday morning.
The stock was the second-most traded in Hong Kong after Internet giant Tencent Holdings yesterday.
Along with Lai, a number of executives at the company were arrested on Monday.
Next Digital said in a statement to Hong Kong’s stock exchange that the incidents are not expected to have any adverse material impact on the daily operations of the group.
Speculation that Lai will have to sell the company is also helping fuel gains, said Stevan Tam (譚朗蔚), research director at Fulbright Securities Ltd.
“Investors should avoid the stock as there’s a high risk of reversal,” Tam said. “I expect the surge to end in one or two days. This is just an individual case and I don’t see Hong Kong’s stock market as increasingly politicized.”
Either way, it appears that the territory’s residents have found a new way to protest, one that goes to the core of Hong Kong’s function as a financial center. That has made some people unhappy.
Mei Xinyu (梅新育), a columnist and business blogger with 1.3 million followers on Sina Weibo, said in posts on his account that the share buying might be aimed at “staging a protest” against the government.
He called for Hong Kong’s bourse operator to take action, saying: “Hong Kong’s capital market should not be a heaven for manipulators, particularly those with political motives.”
Spokesmen for Hong Kong’s stock exchange and the territory’s securities regulator declined to comment.
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