China Stocks in Focus as Investors Prepare for MSCI Index Revamp

  • A-share inclusion in main indexes key issue in June review
  • About $1.5 trillion benchmarked to developing-nation indexes

Peru may be out. Pakistan may be in. And China could have more clout than it’s ever had.

Adding mainland-traded Chinese stocks to its global indexes is the most consequential move MSCI would make as part of its annual review, the results of which will be unveiled on June 14. Other potential changes include adding Pakistan stocks to the gauge, while excluding Peruvian equities.

“Index changes have material effect on flows as well as what the investable universe is for investors globally,” said Brendan Ahern, chief investing officer at KraneShares in New York.

Assets worth $10.5 trillion are benchmarked to MSCI’s indexes of which $1.5 trillion are invested in the developing world, according to the New York-based firm. About $36.9 billion are tied to emerging-market exchange-traded funds and $435 million are in ETFs tracking frontier markets, according to Deborah Fuhr, co-founder and managing partner of independent ETF research firm ETFGI in London.

Here’s what to look out for:

China

MSCI has been considering whether to include mainland-traded Chinese stocks since 2013. It twice deferred a decision, citing concerns about market accessibility among the reasons. Issues have included foreign investors facing investing quotas, the need for improvements in liquidity and further clarification of share-ownership rules.

Goldman Sachs Group Inc. analysts revised their call this week on the odds of A-share inclusion to 70 percent from 50 percent, citing the Chinese government’s latest rules restricting trading halts and its effort to clarify beneficial ownership rules. Remaining obstacles include a 20 percent monthly fund repatriation limit, anti-competitive clauses on index products and daily quota limits on a cross border stock program, Goldman’s team led by Kinger Lau wrote in a report Tuesday. 

More on Goldman’s analysis of the chances of China’s mainland stocks being included in the MSCI index can be found here.

Including 5 percent of the stocks listed in Shanghai and Shenzhen would increase China’s weighting in the Emerging Markets Index to 27.3 percent from 25.9 percent, according to MSCI’s roadmap. A full inclusion would raise that figure to 39.9 percent.

Ten of 23 strategists and fund managers surveyed by Bloomberg expect MSCI to include the Chinese shares. Five said the index provider wouldn’t, while eight said it was hard to tell. UBS Wealth Management analyst Hyde Chen said there’s a 50 to 60 percent probability of a partial including in June as regulators need another six to 12 months to address remaining issues.

Saudi Arabia:

Some investors believe MSCI may also consider raising Saudi Arabia, whose Tawadul Stock Exchange includes $400 billion of equities, to emerging-market status. Bill Greiner, who advises clients on ETF investing as chief investment strategist at Kansas-based Mariner Holdings, said that move would be a game changer. Currently a standalone market, the Persian Gulf nation would have a larger weighting than Russia in MSCI’s emerging-market benchmark if it’s upgraded, Greiner said.

Credit Suisse Group AG thinks an upgrade is unlikely in this round. Saudi Arabia’s plan to ease restrictions on foreign stock investors will increase its chances of earning MSCI’s emerging-market status only by June 2019.

Pakistan and Peru:

Neither Peru nor Pakistan would move the needle for money managers because “your tracking error for completely ignoring” will be small, said Andrew Howell, New York-based frontier markets analyst at Citigroup Inc. The developing-nation benchmark has three Peruvian companies that make up less than 0.5 percent of the gauge.

Pakistan was downgraded to frontier-market status in 2008 after the Karachi gauge imposed a “floor rule” that caused near total paralysis of local market activity for more than three months. It made the move to stop a plunge that wiped out $36.9 billion of market value after then-President Pervez Musharraf left office to avoid impeachment.

MSCI put Peru on review after warning last year that not enough companies meet the size and liquidity requirements for emerging-market equities. MSCI decided in a separate review in May to keep Southern Copper Corp. in its Peru index, giving a boost to the Andean nation as it seeks to avoid demotion.

Argentina, Vietnam and Nigeria:

Citigroup’s Howell expects Argentina and Vietnam to be put on review for potential reclassification as emerging markets, in recognition of their increasing liquidity, size and accessibility for foreign investors.

While MSCI concluded in April that it will keep Nigeria in the frontier-market basket, lack of improvement on the government’s restrictive capital and foreign exchange controls may put the African nation back on the chopping board, Howell said.

If Nigeria is excluded from the benchmark, “it will make it harder for frontier funds to raise money, because it makes it tougher to pitch the frontier market story if one of your largest markets has so many problems that it has to get kicked out of the index group,” he said. “That’s just bad publicity for the whole asset class.”

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