Shanghai-Hong Kong Link to Start in a Week as China Opens

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Hong Kong Bourse
Stock traders sit at their desks facing an electronic board on the trading floor of the Hong Kong Stock Exchange in Hong Kong, China. HKEx will conduct a system readiness test during the weekend immediately before the start date for the stock link, the bourse said Oct. 22. Photographer: Jerome Favre/Bloomberg

China said the Shanghai-Hong Kong exchange link will debut in a week, sparking equity rallies in both cities as the nation gives foreign investors unprecedented access to its $4.2 trillion stock market.

The program allowing a net 23.5 billion yuan ($3.8 billion) of daily cross-border purchases will begin on Nov. 17, regulators said in a joint statement today after weeks of investor speculation on the start date. Benchmark indexes in Shanghai and Hong Kong climbed at least 0.8 percent, while Hong Kong Exchanges & Clearing Ltd. surged 4.6 percent. The yuan strengthened as the central bank raised its reference rate by the most since 2010.

The exchange link is one of China’s biggest steps toward opening up the capital account, increasing use of the yuan and turning Shanghai into an international financial center. It will give foreign investors greater access to Chinese companies tied to the nation’s consumer market, which President Xi Jinping is counting on to reduce the dependence of the world’s second-largest economy on exports and infrastructure spending.

“It’s good to see a date,” Mark Konyn, who helps oversee about $92 billion as the chief executive officer of Cathay Conning Asset Management in Hong Kong. “It’s a great innovation. We understand it’s only the first step.”

Shenzhen Link

A Shenzhen equivalent of the Shanghai-Hong Kong link will probably follow within two years, letting more foreign investors buy shares on China’s smaller exchange, according to Bank of America Corp. and Templeton Emerging Markets Group. Japan would also like be part of a trading link with China, the chief executive officer of Osaka Exchange Inc. said on Nov. 5.

The Shanghai connect will expand access to Chinese shares from a limited number of institutions to anyone with a Hong Kong brokerage account. The $64 billion Qualified Foreign Institutional Investor program has allowed professional money managers to buy local securities since 2002, while a similar system using offshore yuan began in 2011.

Shanghai-listed equities are heading for the best annual gain since 2009, outpacing shares of mainland companies listed overseas amid speculation valuation discounts on domestic securities will narrow as China opens up. The Shanghai Composite Index has climbed 17 percent this year, versus a 1.9 percent drop in the Hang Seng China Enterprises Index of Hong Kong-listed shares.

Tax Policy

Brokers had been preparing for the link to start at the end of October, after regulators signaled in April that it would begin in six months. While officials haven’t commented on reasons for the delay, some investors had speculated authorities were waiting for an easing of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.

“The wait is over,” said Ian Cohen, the Hong Kong-based chief operating officer for Asia equities at HSBC Holdings Plc. “This will mean a world of new opportunities for investors around the world and in China.”

One question that still remains is whether China will levy a capital gains tax on international investors who buy mainland shares through the link. While the nation’s laws suggest foreigners should pay a 10 percent levy, the government has never collected the tax, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Chinese authorities are close to outlining taxation rules for the connect and will unveil them “within a very short time,” K.C. Chan, Hong Kong’s secretary for financial services and the treasury, told reporters today. Charles Li, the CEO of HKEx, said tax rules would be announced before the link begins.

Brokers Ready

The investment industry is ready for the connect, according to the Asia Securities Industry & Financial Markets Association, a trade group whose members include BlackRock Inc. and Goldman Sachs Asset Management.

“Our brokers are really excited about it, they’re out there now signing up their clients and they’ll be ready on Monday,” Mark Austen, the chief executive officer of Asifma, said in an interview on Bloomberg Television today.

The link allows trading in companies on the SSE 180 Index and SSE 380 Index, which are listed on the Shanghai Stock Exchange, as well as constituents of the Hang Seng Composite LargeCap Index and Hang Seng Composite MidCap Index in Hong Kong. Stocks with dual listings are also eligible.

The SSE 380 index has a weighting of almost 20 percent in consumer-related companies, versus 5 percent for the Hang Seng China Enterprises index. Household consumption in China climbed to 47 percent of gross domestic product last year from 43 percent in 2008, Morgan Stanley analysts wrote in a Nov. 6 report.

Xi Outlook

President Xi signaled over the weekend that China is ready to accept a lower rate of growth, assuring executives that the economy is more resilient than ever and his government can safely guide the country through any slowdown.

“Even a growth rate of about 7 percent will put China among the top performers in the world in terms of both speed and size,” Xi told the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation CEO Summit in Beijing.

Trading through the link is subject to daily and aggregate limits, which regulators have said may be adjusted. The 250 billion yuan aggregate cap on Hong Kong stock investments is equivalent to about 1 percent of the value of shares listed in the city, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The 300 billion yuan limit for the mainland equates to less than 2 percent of the Shanghai Composite.

System Test

The exchange link “will start to add to the depth and breadth of the two previously separate markets,” Vicky Fung, the Hong Kong-based head of China equity research at Nomura Holdings Inc., said before today’s announcement. It “is likely the beginning of a managed and orderly opening of China’s capital market, not just in equities, but in other investable asset classes,” she said.

Quotas will probably be increased over time and exchange links with China may spread to cities such as London and Paris, Asifma’s Austen said. Authorities may also decide to expand the program to other asset classes, such as fixed income, he said.

The Hang Seng China AH Premium Index rose 1.6 percent to 100.83 today, with a level of 100 signaling mainland dual-listed shares are trading at parity with their Hong Kong counterparts.

The yuan strengthened 0.05 percent to 6.1196 per dollar, China Foreign Exchange Trade System prices show. The People’s Bank of China raised the currency’s daily fixing by 0.37 percent, the most since the end of a de-facto peg to the greenback in 2010.

Volumes Jump

The Chinese currency is playing a greater role in commerce, accounting for 8.7 percent of global trade in October 2013, up from 1.9 percent in January 2012, according to data cited by Aite Group LLC in a report from September. That was dwarfed by the U.S. dollar’s 81.1 percent share. China has also partly opened the country’s gold market to foreign investors.

HKEx will conduct a system readiness test on Nov. 15, the bourse said today. Shares of the exchange extended this year’s advance to 42 percent, while trading on Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index and the Shanghai Composite was at least 27 percent above the 30-day average, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

“We’re going to get more volume in the market,” said Uwe Parpart, the Hong Kong-based chief strategist at Reorient Group Ltd. “It opens up possibilities for foreign investors into China.”

— With assistance by Eduard Gismatullin, and Kana Nishizawa

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