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Space launch: One small step for China, one giant opportunity for investors

As China prepares to launch its first manned space flight in four years, Chinese stock prices are going up. 

By Staff writer / June 14, 2012

People watch the Long March-2F rocket carrying the Shenzhou-9 spacecraft as it moves to the launch pad at the Jiuquan launch center in Jiuquan, China's northwest Gansu province, June 9.

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Beijing

For the Chinese government, this weekend’s space shot – the country’s first manned space flight for nearly four years – is a matter of national pride.

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Beijing Bureau Chief

Peter Ford is The Christian Science Monitor’s Beijing Bureau Chief. He covers news and features throughout China and also makes reporting trips to Japan and the Korean peninsula.

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For some canny Chinese stock pickers, however, it is a chance to make money.

The Shenzhou 9 mission, due to take off on Saturday, will send three “taikonauts,” one of them a woman, to dock for the first time with China’s orbiting space lab. The maneuver will mark a major step toward Beijing’s goal of building its own space station.

Back on Earth, meanwhile, the flurry of publicity surrounding the launch has done wonders for the stock prices of Chinese state-owned firms in the space sector. One of them has seen the value of its shares jump 16 percent since the mission was announced Saturday.

The Chinese government and the companies it controls are generally tight-lipped about the space program, releasing information to the public only at high points such as rocket launches. “Shares go up because they are stimulated by the news,” says Li Qin, an aerospace analyst at China Investment Securities in Beijing.

At the same time, adds Mr. Li, launches are evidence of progress in China’s space sector, “which sparks market expectations of the sector, so speculative investors jump in.”

The last time China launched a rocket in its space lab program, last year, space sector stocks bucked a falling market to rise by about 10 percent, Li recalls. They have risen by the same amount over the past four days, he says, led by Shaanxi Aerospace Power, a manufacturer of rocket parts, whose shares have leaped 16 percent.

Last year, though, as soon as the Shenzhou 8 rocket had docked with the space lab and interest in its journey faded, the stock prices fell back to their previous levels, Li says, and he expects the same thing to happen this time.

“You could make money if you’d bought space sector stocks on Monday,” he says. “But you’d have to be careful to sell them before the rocket is launched.”

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