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China Moving To The Big Stage

Jan. 9 (Bloomberg) -- China took a “big step” toward opening its capital markets by approving stock index futures, paving the way for increased investment in the world’s fastest- growing major economy.

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The China Securities Regulatory Commission said yesterday it may take three months to complete preparations for index futures, agreements to buy or sell an index at a preset value on an agreed date. The government also approved margin trading and short selling, when investors seek to profit from declines in shares, according to a commission statement on its Web site.

“They’re taking a big step forward in developing their capital markets and allowing people to express their positive and negative views on stocks,” Invesco said in a statement. Invesco, which invests in China as part of its Asia Pacific business that had $26.8 billion of assets as of Sept. 30. “You’ll have more people participate in the market and thus greater efficiency.”

Increased investment in Chinese equities may help narrow the gap between prices of shares traded in both Hong Kong and the mainland. Companies in China’s benchmark Shanghai Composite Index trade at 33.9 times 12-month trailing earnings compared with 20.9 times for the Hang Seng China Enterprise index in Hong Kong. A potential long-term development is more clarity in the market now that there’s more liquidity in the market for the true valuations of the companies that are dual listed.

China, whose economy grew 8.9 percent in the third quarter of 2009, currently bars overseas investors from trading yuan- denominated stocks and bonds on the mainland except through a so-called qualified foreign institutional investors program, which has approved 94 international firms. Foreign ownership of fund management companies is restricted to 49 percent.

Index futures may help ease fluctuations in the world’s third-largest equity market by value after the Shanghai Composite Index doubled in 2007, then slumped 65 percent in 2008 before rebounding 80 percent last year. Until now, Chinese investors could only profit from gains in equities.

China is going to the direction of freedom for its markets and more flexibility for its investors so it’s good news. More liquidity in the futures leads to more investors as you have a bigger pool of tools. You can be long on the future and short on the stock.

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Allowing short-selling in China probably will spur the start of more hedge funds in Asia. Short selling is when investors sell borrowed stock in the hope of profiting by buying the securities later at a lower price and returning them to the shareholder.

Rules for the index futures will deter participation by retail investors, said JPMorgan Chase & Co. Investors will be required to put up 10 percent of a contract’s value to buy, sell or short CSI 300-based futures as collateral, according to rules published on China Financial Futures Exchange’s Web site in 2007. The bourse has been conducting mock trading in the securities since October 2006. The value of the futures contracts will be points of the CSI 300 multiplied by 300 yuan, according to the trading rules the exchange set.

Investors will need to spend 105,000 yuan ($15,379) to buy a single futures contract when the CSI 300 is at the 3,500 level, establishing a “cost barrier to retail participation. These initiatives will provide tools for institutional investors to hedge risks and should reduce market volatility in the long-term. Citic Securities Co., China Merchants Bank Co., Ping An Insurance Group Co., Industrial Bank Co. and Shanghai Pudong Development Bank Co. are the most-heavily weighted stocks on the CSI 300.

Comments: The article basically says it all. As things stand, with so much restrictions on foreign funds participation, coupled with a monolithic broking business (i.e. relatively benign equity margin business and minimal leverage by participants) - China equity markets is already very huge. The combined daily turnover for China exchanges is nearly US$25bn.

In comparison, HK's figure is around US$5.7bn. Seoul's figure is US$3.2bn. Taiwan's at US$3.7bn. Can you imagine when markets in China opens up a little bit more to foreign participation??!! HK is getting a lot of attention from large companies wanting to list overseas because their legal infrastructure and transparency are a lot better and is of global standard. You and I know that China will take a looong time to do both well. To companies, HK is as good as listing and tapping into China funds swell.

Back home, the smaller exchanges have to carve out their own niche. I have said this for the umpteenth time, let investors do day-trading short selling - meaning they have to cover by end of day or face buying in consequences. What's so bad about that? I think it will boost daily turnover by at least 20% on Bursa. What is so bad about selling first, since that same person will have to cover by end of the day. It is not the same as short selling and holding that short for an extended period of time, which presents a higher risk to the markets.


p/s photos: Sharon Xu

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