SHANGHAI — Asian stocks nose-dived on Monday, led by sharp falls in Shanghai as concern mounts over the health of China’s econ omy — the world’s second largest.

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Shanghai, China.Picture: ISTOCK Although China, a major engine of global growth, has been slowing for some time, financial markets have nevertheless tumbled due to the fear its economic growth will decelerate faster than expected.

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Here are a series of answers to key questions on the Chinese stock market and the wider economy: China rolled out a range of measures in July after Shanghai stocks slumped more than 30% from their mid-June peak, but while they had a short-term effect in buoying prices, their effect has since evaporated.

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Shanghai’s benchmark index rose about 17% in the two weeks following the measures’ announcement, but has lost all of those gains, and then some, to fall nearly 21% since.

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In the early July moves, the government intervened with a rescue package that included funding the state-backed China Securities Finance Corporation (CSF) to buy stocks on behalf of the government.

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Other measures include barring “big” investors from selling their stakes and cracking down on short-selling — when investors bet prices will go lower.

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At the weekend authorities said the state pension fund would be allowed to invest 30% of its total assets — which according to the official Xinhua news agency amounted to 3.5-trillion yuan ($550bn) — in shares.

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In an effort to reassure investors that intervention would continue, the market regulator said the CSF would keep stabilising the stock market for a number of years.

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Beijing has also cut interest rates and issued a shock devaluation of its currency of nearly 2% on August 11, causing the yuan to tumble almost 5% over that week, which should give exporters a boost.

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Monday’s falls take the Shanghai stock market below its level on July 8, when Beijing stepped in and prompted a rally.

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It is also below its closing level on December 31 last year, meaning it has wiped out all its 2015 gains.

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Despite the government’s “national team” having made a major effort to support the market, analysts say shares are likely to go still lower as the plunge in global bourses is blowing back on China in what is effectively a vicious circle.

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The yuan is widely expected to weaken further against the US dollar, although the central bank is expected to intervene to prevent steep slides.

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Japanese bank Nomura expects the currency, currently around 6.4 yuan to the dollar, to depreciate further to 6.6 yuan by the end of the year. China’s economy expanded 7.4% last year, its weakest since 1990, and growth has slowed further this year, measuring 7% in each of the first two quarters.

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It is a far faster growth rate than most other major countries, but the yuan move raised suspicions that the state of the economy is worse than officials have revealed.

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China’s second quarter gross domestic product (GDP) figure exactly met the government’s full-year target of “around” 7%, leading some analysts to question the announcement, which came after several weak indicators. China has long faced accusations that the government massages economic figures during times of slowdown.

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Experts say China’s ruling Communist Party needs to deliver improved living standards, lifting more people out of poverty and satisfying the growing middle class, in exchange for acceptance of its rule. The government also needs to maintain a minimum level of economic growth, which some analysts put at 7%, in order to create jobs for millions of people and prevent social unrest.

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With Europe’s economy weak and the US preparing to raise interest rates, the world has looked to China’s thirst for raw materials to keep finances humming. With more than 1.3-billion potential consumers, the country is also a big market for manufactured goods such as cars. Any weakness in demand could be keenly felt by producers.

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Analysts are mixed on the question. The latest scare came last Friday when a survey indicated that manufacturing activity was at its lowest for more than seven years. “The multiyear low in the PMI (purchasing managers index) confirms that the economy is still not on a solid footing and (we) look for a flat growth profile in (the second half), with continued downside risks,” Barclays Bank said in a research note.

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But others said China could still deploy further interest rate cuts and spending measures.

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“We continue to believe that sentiment is currently overly downbeat and that policy support will limit the downside risk to economic activity over the course of the next couple of quarters,” Capital Economics said.

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Another risk is that market interventions could derail economic reforms and cause the government to fall back on pump-priming instead of pursuing its long-touted aim of shifting to domestic consumption as the driver of more sustainable growth.

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AFP

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