World and Nation

Stock prices in China rise due to push to increase investment

HONG KONG — Stocks in China rallied on Thursday, helped by the country’s newly announced decision to open its markets to more foreign investment and expectations that Beijing might soon take additional steps to bolster flagging economic growth.

The mainland Chinese market has lagged behind much of the world this year, amid worries about the health of the Chinese economy, where growth has slowed sharply in recent months.

That trend reversed itself Thursday, with the Shanghai composite index gaining 1.7 percent and the Shenzhen index rising 3.1 percent on the first day of trading after a three-day holiday in mainland China.

Most other markets in Asia fell Thursday on renewed concerns over the eurozone crisis, after a government bond auction by Spain on Wednesday yielded disappointing results. The Nikkei index in Japan closed down 0.5 percent and the Hang Seng index in Hong Kong fell 0.95 percent Thursday.

Chinese markets were buoyed by expectations that foreign investment would increase in line with a loosening of quotas that cap the amount of foreign capital that can flow into domestic stock and bond markets in mainland China.

The liberalization of the investment program, announced Tuesday, raised the quota for qualified foreign institutional investors from $30 billion to $80 billion — an amount that analysts said was not especially large but nonetheless symbolically important, as it appeared to form part of Beijing’s gradual efforts to overhaul the country’s tightly controlled capital markets.

The “move is a sign of a push for greater capital account opening,” said Dariusz Kowalczyk, a senior economist at Credit Agricole in Hong Kong.

“It is also a step towards attracting more foreign investment.”

At the same time, many analysts predict Beijing will continue its drive to lift the economy with measures that some believe could include an interest rate cut later this month.

The Chinese economy — a leading engine of global growth — has been flagging in recent months. Government efforts last year to hold back excessively rapid expansion and the inflation that accompanied it then are still weighing on the economy. At the same time, demand for Chinese-made exports has waned amid the economic turmoil in Europe.

Recent manufacturing-sector data for March painted a complex picture. Growth appears to have been resilient among large state enterprises, but smaller, private firms appeared more severely hit by tight liquidity and the slowdown in demand. This has complicated policymakers’ balancing act, analysts said: Beijing needs to encourage growth, but at the same time to avoid reigniting inflation.

The central bank has loosened the reins on bank lending twice in recent months in an effort to stimulate economic activity, and many analysts expect more cuts to the reserve requirement ratio for lenders in the coming months.