Chinese stocks have had a topsy-turvy week in the wake of China's Third Plenum, an important policy and economic meeting that has revealed numerous big clues as to where this growing economy could be headed. Hong Kong's Hang Seng (HSIINDICES:^HSI) picked up more than 1% to end the week after a 1.6% surge on Friday knocked out looming week-long losses. Still, the Hang Seng's stuck in the red through 2013, leaving China investors disappointed.
But could that disappointment be on the verge of fading? Analysts have criticized the "vague" ambitions unveiled during the Third Plenum, but China's leadership may be pointing to a future that embraces investors -- and businesses -- in a big way.
Big news out of Beijing
Analysts expected China to pivot away from its reliance on state-owned enterprises, but that's not what happened. The Plenum announced that state-owned firms would continue a "leading role" in the economy's push even while China looks to support private businesses gaining ground in the economy. That's good news for the likes of China's top resource and materials firms, such as PetroChina (NYSE:PTR) and Chinalco (NYSE:ACH), which have struggled this year. Both stocks have sunk deep into the red in 2013, with problems of oversupply dragging on Chinalco, in particular.
However, Beijing announced on Friday that it would allow the market to dictate the price of materials like fuel and electricity in the future. That's a step toward more and stronger privatization. For companies like PetroChina and Chinalco, allowing the markets more of a role in the pricing of products will hopefully cut down on Beijing's past insistence on high production and oversupply that have crushed prices in the materials sector as of late.
It's also a good sign for China's up-and-coming private businesses, which look to face competition on the market's terms, rather than Beijing's. State-owned enterprises still offer upside for investors in certain industries -- such as PetroChina's energy dominance -- but Beijing may be friendlier to growth investors interested in China's technology firms and others that cater to the country's urban middle class.
China's biggest reforms, however, have the long term in sight, not the short term. The country's relaxation of its one-child policy will have profound effects on China's future. This country's facing a crisis of an aging population and smaller young workforce, something that will slam the Chinese economy and strain developing infrastructure in coming decades.
Easing off the one-child policy -- Beijing says it will allow parents two children if one parent is currently an only child -- will not only help improve a drain of young workers, but it will also open up the domestic labor pool for China's corporations. That's only good news for both private enterprise and investors alike.
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