Rise of the dama investors

By Li Qiaoyi Source:Global Times Published: 2014-9-8 20:58:01

Middle-aged Chinese women not just a force in square dancing

A middle-aged woman (right) checks out gold products at a jewelry shop in Qionghai, in South China's Hainan Province. Photo: CFP

Frequent media coverage of middle-aged Chinese women square dancing has caused many to associate these women only with this boisterous activity.

Known as dama, literally "big mother" in Chinese, these women have even made a splash outside the country as well, with some of them having been photographed dancing in front of the Louvre in Paris in April and others dancing in Moscow's Red Square in June.

However, the somewhat teasing reportage of dama masks the fact that many of them are actually serious about things other than square dancing, namely investing.

"Some media reports are exaggerating the troublemaking of dama who love square dancing," said a Beijing resident Yang in her 50s, refusing to give her full name.

Calling herself a dama, Yang told the Global Times on Wednesday that "we've also been making a contribution to the economy," referring to their readiness to dip into their cash pile to invest in a variety of conduits.

Bargain hunters

Some dama investors have shown a higher level of eagerness to hunt bargains compared to other investors.

In mid-April 2013, when gold prices fell to about 370 yuan ($60) per gram from about 410 yuan per gram at the beginning of 2013, Yang thought it would be the best time to invest in gold and bought a 500-gram gold bullion bar.

Likewise, many other middle-aged Chinese women who handle the money in their families also rushed to join a gold-buying binge at the same time. This reportedly resulted in 300 tons of gold being bought within 10 days during that month, which played a strong role in helping the global gold price to hold steady for a short period of time. Because of this, even Goldman Sachs Group was said to have been forced to halt their short-selling in gold later in the month.

Amazed by the phenomenon, the Wall Street Journal used the term directly in an article published in August 2013 about the rising appetite for gold consumption among Chinese dama.

A downward spiral in gold prices, which now stand at about 300 yuan per gram, had dama such as Yang mired in losses.

Still, some of them are continuing their pursuit of investment vehicles, unfazed by fluctuations in the price of gold which they see as a long-term bet.

"I'm considering investing in stocks," said Yang.

Some of her neighbors and friends have earned some money from buying stocks, which is tempting her to give it a try, she disclosed.

As for the amount of money she plans to spend on buying stocks, she said it will depend on the prospects of specific stocks.

In another sign of the Chinese dama's enthusiasm for investing, some of them participated in Bitcoin trading when the country was hit by a wave of feverish investment in the digital currency later in 2013, according to Chinese media reports.

The investment power of Chinese dama is reminiscent of a similar phenomenon in Japan called Mrs Watanabe, a term for Japanese housewives who were adept at making quick profits through Internet-based currency trading during the last decade. Watanabe is one of the most common surnames in Japan.

The influence of Mrs Watanabe was even acknowledged by a member of Bank of Japan in 2007 who hailed the housewives of Tokyo for helping stabilize the Japanese foreign exchange market by trading in Japanese yen in an opposite way to that of professional traders.

More than one kind

But for many people, the Chinese dama might not be as investment-savvy as Japan's Mrs Watanabe, due in part to actions like the dama's blind gold-buying spree.

But in the eyes of Ren Lijun, founder of Beijing Lijun Century Brand and Marketing Consultants, the genuine investment mindset of the Chinese dama has to some extent been distorted.

For women in their 40s and 50s who Ren believes are the mainstay of the dama group in the country, many of them have cautious attitudes toward investment products, helped by growing usage of the Internet that enables them to get diversified sources of information, Ren told the Global Times on September 2.

Those over 60 might be more liable to be caught in investment scams, but that might not always be the case, he noted.

Hu Liqin, a resident of Wuhu, East China's Anhui Province, told the Global Times on September 2 that she has always been alert about investment risks.

"I never jump at any quick return opportunities," said Hu, who is in her late 50s.

When asked about her preference for short-term investment, she said "for the time being, I don't see any good opportunities. But if home prices show signs of stabilization, I would consider buying an apartment to rent out."

And there are many other middle-aged women in the country who can afford investment but are reluctant to do so, partly due to their early life experiences that make them accustomed to accumulating their savings.

Lu, a 51-year-old woman who only gave her surname, began running a small traditional medicine clinic three years ago after her retirement from a public hospital in the city of Xingtai, North China's Hebei Province.

Her net earnings from the business plus her monthly pension total nearly 10,000 yuan per month, quite a decent income for her city.

But Lu hardly indulges herself in shopping, let alone investing. The only way she is used to dealing with her money is to put them in the bank, which she thinks is the safest place.

The likes of Lu seem to be more similar to their counterparts in South Korea who are also less avid in seeking investment opportunities.

"I don't think there is an equivalent trend [of investment by middle-aged women] in South Korea," said Jeon So-min, a 31-year-old South Korean financial salesperson working in Shanghai.

While there is also a small percentage of South Korean middle-aged women who are devoted to various investment channels, the majority of them care little about sinking money into investing, according to Jeon.

As for the term dama, Lu of Xingtai shows undisguised dislike, refusing to be called this way as she perceives it to be a pejorative expression that underestimates the real value of woman of her age.

Hu from Wuhu feels okay being addressed as dama, stressing that "it's inappropriate to mix up the true meaning of dama with those addicted to square dancing."

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