Chinese contemplate stocks - cautiously

STOCK mania in China may be abating.

This week, thousands of Beijing residents quietly contemplated whether to invest in four local state-run companies in the first public offering by the Chinese capital. Although people flocked on March 27 to 300 banks and credit cooperatives specially designated to sell lottery tickets for the stocks, their orderliness contrasted with the riots that broke out in Shenzhen in August 1992, when more than 1 million people rushed to the city to buy share applications. The current sale ended March 29.

In 1992, applicants accused bank officials and other authorities of hoarding or selling application forms. This time, police were out in force and Beijing officials were banned from entering the lottery. The results will be announced later in the week.

As China shifts to a market-style economy, the Chinese have flooded into the country's nascent stock markets in search of better returns on savings and hedges against inflation. But analysts say Chinese residents are chastened by the disastrous performance of the country's two stock markets in Shanghai and Shenzhen last year. Last week, stock market indices hit their lowest point of the year.

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