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The opening of China’s equity markets is not a one-way trade.

Much of the recent attention from the global investment community has focused on inflows into China stemming from the inclusion of domestic Chinese A-shares in MSCI’s global benchmark indexes, but this is only half of the story.

Less remarked upon is the effect that rising investment outflows from mainland China are having on overseas markets as the domestic economy matures, wealth increases and investors show an increasing appetite to access markets abroad.

The global links are expanding fast. In May, China quadrupled the daily quota for two-way Stock Connect trading between the mainland’s domestic stock markets and Hong Kong. At the same time, authorities announced that a similar link between the Shanghai and London stock markets would launch by the end of the year - the first such tie up with a Western nation.

Increasingly, global investors will need to take note. Investors from mainland China can (and do) move markets with their trading flows, and often display distinct stylistic biases.

One country, two Connects

Hong Kong has had direct two-way trading links to the Shanghai market since 2014 and to Shenzhen since 2015.

Several aspects of southbound flows can have consequences for overseas investors: the capacity to be a price setter, a bias for momentum trades and increased volatility. This new group of market participants often worries less about the quality and long-term prospects of companies they invest in than whether there is a short-term profit to be made. Their strong pricing power and more aggressive trading style can mean they are less concerned about crossing bid-ask spreads or moving prices than other investors in the market

Source: Bloomberg, Fidelity International, June 2018

Southbound inflows have only recently started to have a market-moving impact on major Hong Kong-listed stocks. There is a home bias for familiar names of Chinese companies, but their impact extends beyond this. Mainland holdings of Hong Kong-listed shares in HSBC are still small but have increased by 50 per cent in only a year.

For some home-grown firms, like the carmaker Great Wall Motors, container port operator Dalian Port, or toll road operator Sichuan Expressway, southbound ownership rises to more than 20 per cent. The impact of these flows can be mixed. An influx of demand pushes prices up for existing shareholders but Chinese investors can hold for a very short time, introducing greater volatility. In addition, this could affect corporate behaviour as a significant proportion of the shareholder register focus more on the companies’ short-term performance swaying management decisions.

Source: Bloomberg, Fidelity International, June 2018

Uniquely, where firms with dual listings on the mainland and in Hong Kong are involved, southbound investors can be attracted to value represented by the (usually) cheaper Hong Kong-listed H-shares.

For example, H-shares of Shanghai Pharmaceuticals Holdings trade at a significant discount to their Shanghai-traded A-shares. Partly lured by this, southbound investors hold more than 18 per cent of the stock.

Across the spectrum of stocks with dual A and H share listings, the average premium for A shares currently stands at around 120 per cent. Although this is down from around 130 per cent at the start of the year, a trend that partly reflects exchange rate expectations as the renminbi has softened slightly in recent months against the strong dollar and sentiment has softened in the onshore market. Over time, the premium may erode further.

Source: Bloomberg, Fidelity International, June 2018
Source: Bloomberg, Fidelity International, June 2018

London bound?

The next step in China’s attempt to expand its trading links with the rest of the world looks set to be the Shanghai-London Connect programme. It was first proposed in 2015 in a meeting between China’s president Xi Jinping and the then British prime minister David Cameron and is set to launch later in 2018. The mechanics of the system have been complicated by the time difference between the two countries, as Chinese markets typically close just as London is starting the trading day.

While the programme is yet untested, expectations about trading volumes have been tempered. Investors in the UK, or indeed anywhere overseas, are already able to access the Shanghai market freely via the existing Stock Connect programme in Hong Kong.

However, for Chinese investors looking overseas, the prospect of gaining their first exposure to blue chip London-listed firms like GlaxoSmithKline, Diageo or BP may prove compelling. It’s not yet clear how significant the flows might be but, given the distinctive style of Chinese investors, we might expect a potential increase in volatility in the London market, driven by an aggressive, shorter-term trading style . As in the Hong Kong impact already explored, we could also see the short termism of these cash-rich investors reflected in the behaviour of management in the companies they target.

The influence could run the other way, of course. The investing culture in more mature markets could engender an appreciation of the longer term prospects for companies among Chinese investors. Either way, the opening up of capital flows means changes for international investors; changes they can’t ignore.

Vincent Li

Vincent Li

Neil Gough

Neil Gough

Asia Editor