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KAI RYSSDAL: Indulge me, if you would, in a little pop quiz. What’s the most valuable company in the world by market capitalization?
Wal-Mart? Only in the retail business.
General Electric? It’s right up there, but not right on top.
What’s that? Exxon-Mobil?
Well, yes. Until today when a big stock sale in China turned into a gusher of an initial public offering. It made PetroChina the first company in the history of the world to be worth more than a trillion dollars. But hold on just a sec. Because some analysts are warning the market valuation of the Chinese oil giant is artifically high. Here’s Marketplace’s Bob Moon.
BOB MOON: Since this is the radio, you’re going to have to imagine this really long number: A dollar sign with a one, followed by a dozen zeroes.
Now, you also need to envision the asterisk right next to it, leading to a very important qualification.
It’s true that the value of all the PetroChina stock in circulation amounts to $1 trillion. But a lot of analysts are worried that it really adds up to more air in a stock market bubble that’s keeps on growing in Shanghai.
Blame a lack of investment options for the Chinese people. China-watcher Donald Straszheim of Roth Capital Partners says the country’s stock market has a captive audience:
DONALD STRASZHEIM: The rate of return on their bank savings is very low, and the only equity market they can participate in, legally, is the one in China.
That helps explain why PetroChina is now worth more than twice as much as Exxon-Mobil. Even though Asia’s top oil and gas producer has been roughly half as profitable as the American oil giant.
In fact, independent energy researcher Kurt Wulff of McDep Associates thinks things would be very different if Beijing lifted its restrictions.
KURT WULFF: If the Chinese government allowed Chinese investors to buy stocks outside of China, they’d rush into Exxon and sell their PetroChina because of the wide valuation difference. There’s no question about it, I wouldn’t buy the stock, obviously, at the Shanghai market price.
A lot of investors apparently agree. PetroChina shares on the New York Stock Exchange actually fell in value today, by nearly 13 percent.
In Los Angeles, I’m Bob Moon for Marketplace.
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