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Will China A-Shares Be Included in Emerging Markets?

When MSCI decides to move a country in or out of the MSCI Emerging Markets Index, funds that track this index have to implement these changes when the index does

Patricia Oey 9 June, 2016 | 3:52PM

In April this year, the World Bank released its 2016 edition of World Development Indicators, and for the first time, it stopped classifying countries as "developing" and "developed." According to the organization, the distinction was no longer relevant, as it aims to use a set of sustainable development goals that can be applied to all countries.

Investors in emerging-markets index funds should consider if they want to hold a fund whose China allocation is likely to grow

The investment world, for the most part, continues to view developed and developing or emerging markets as two separate allocations within a diversified portfolio. And the question "what is an emerging market" comes up when MSCI makes its annual announcement regarding market or country changes to its developed-markets and emerging-markets indexes.

This year, MSCI will make its announcement on June 14. If a change is to be made, it is typically implemented within a year. MSCI works with the investment community on these decisions and conducts a consultation period of at least one year with industry participants. Changes under consideration for the 2016 announcement include Pakistan, from frontier market to emerging market, China A-Shares from stand-alone to emerging, and Peru from emerging to frontier. There are no emerging-market countries under review for potential reclassification to developed-market status.

When MSCI decides to move a country in or out of the MSCI Emerging Markets Index, funds that track this index have to implement these changes when the index does. Active managers, on the other hand, can make changes at their discretion. The addition of countries with small capital markets has little impact on both passively managed and actively managed funds. For example, if Pakistan were to be added to the MSCI Emerging Markets Index, it will account for less than 1%. But the addition or deletion of a large market can have a significant impact on the portfolios of both actively managed and passively managed funds.

Will China A-Shares Be Included in Emerging Markets?

China A-Shares is a large market. It includes companies listed in China either on the Shanghai or Shenzhen stock exchanges. Historically, foreigners had very limited access to these shares. During the past few years, Chinese regulators have been carefully opening up its markets, in part to draw global investors into its capital markets. At current prices, the inclusion of China A-Shares would account for about 20% of the MSCI Emerging Markets Index, for a total China allocation of 40%, including the existing overseas China listings. If China A-Shares were to be added, MSCI would cap their weighting to 1% within the MSCI Emerging Markets Index and scale up this allocation over time.

The inclusion of China A-Shares was under consideration last year, and leading up to the June 2015 announcement, the CSI 300 Index, the China A-Share benchmark, returned more than 130%. Most of this rally was attributed to local Chinese investors who piled into the market to try to get ahead of anticipated large foreign fund flows should MSCI decide to include China A-Shares into its MSCI Emerging Markets Index.

This year, local Chinese markets are in a completely different mood. Year to date, the CSI 300 is down about 15%, and from the peak one year ago, the market is down 40%. That said, the CSI 300 is still about 50% higher than it was two years ago. It looks like Chinese investors have low expectations that MSCI will announce the inclusion of China A-Shares next week.

In fact, MSCI has said that its announcement regarding the inclusion of China A-Shares into its MSCI Emerging Markets Index could occur outside of its annual Market Classification Review cycle. This is because MSCI is waiting for more clarity from the Chinese government on rules regarding foreign investor accessibility and capital mobility. The index provider said when China brings its rules regarding these issues in line with MSCI's criteria, it will announce the timeline for China A-Share inclusion into its emerging-markets index.

If Not Now, When?

Even if MSCI does not decide to include China A-Shares into the MSCI Emerging Markets Index now, it will likely do so in the not-too-distant future. Vanguard has already begun to include China A-Shares in its US-listed index fund and Vanguard FTSE Emerging Markets ETF (VWO) as of late last year.

Both MSCI and Vanguard said that the weighting of China A-Shares will be capped at a low allocation, but that this will gradually rise. Investors in emerging-markets index funds should consider if they want to hold a fund whose already large China allocation at around 25% is likely to grow in the coming years.

The information contained within is for educational and informational purposes ONLY. It is not intended nor should it be considered an invitation or inducement to buy or sell a security or securities noted within nor should it be viewed as a communication intended to persuade or incite you to buy or sell security or securities noted within. Any commentary provided is the opinion of the author and should not be considered a personalised recommendation. The information contained within should not be a person's sole basis for making an investment decision. Please contact your financial professional before making an investment decision.

About Author

Patricia Oey  Patricia Oey is an ETF analyst at Morningstar.