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Stone bubble bursts as hot money ebbs away

By Guo Anfei and Li Yingqing  (China Daily)

13:30, August 13, 2012

In the Kunming Jade and Jewelry Mall, crowds of people used to haggle loudly over jade bracelets, necklaces, rings, and ornaments. But now the hustle is gone.

The jade bubble in Southwest China's Yunnan province is bursting after more than a decade as hot money is withdrawing.

According to traditional Chinese culture, jade brings happiness and luck to its owners and keeps evil away.

Li Jinsuo, a jade shop owner who has been running his business in the mall for 12 years, said his sales volume dropped at least 30 percent this year compared to last year.

Over the past decade, Li's jade accessories and ornaments sold very well and he was often out of stock for some products. But starting from the beginning of the year, the prices of low- and middle-grade jade products dropped 20 to 30 percent, although the prices of high-grade jade remain steady.

"The current lackluster jade market is a reflection of the slowing Chinese economic growth and the world's as well", said Li Lianju, deputy director of the department of land and resources of the Yunnan provincial government.

"It's normal that the jade market is starting to adjust and becoming rational after a frenzy that lasted years", he added.

"Starting in 2005, jade prices soared. Emerald prices increased almost five times from 2005 to 2011. The trade volume for jade in Yunnan has jumped from less than 20 billion yuan ($3.17 billion) in 2005 to over 30 billion yuan in 2011," Li Lianju said.

The price surge attracted hot money from across the country. Yunnan's jade market accounts for 70 percent of the country's total and is considered a bellwether.

"A top-class emerald bracelet cost 100,000 yuan in 2005, but the price soared to 500,000 yuan in 2010. You can imagine how huge the bubble is", Li Lianju said.

Many buyers and collectors believe that jade is unique, according to the Chinese saying "gold can have a price but not jade, collect jade instead of gold".

Li Lianju believes that prices will decrease about 10 percent a year in the coming three years.

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