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China A-Shares Set for MSCI Inclusion Boost

China's domestic A-shares stock market is likely to see $67 billion of inflows in 2019 alone after MSCI confirmed their weighting would quadruple from 5% to 20% this year

David Brenchley 1 March, 2019 | 12:52PM

China equity, China A-Shares, China stock market, MSCI, emerging markets

Asset managers have welcomed index compiler MSCI’s decision to add more China A-shares to its benchmark indices.

The inclusion, which will take place in three steps, means the amount of A-shares in the benchmark emerging market index will quadruple from 5% today to 20% by November. The MSCI Emerging Market index’s pro-forma weighting to Chinese A-shares will rise from 0.7% to 3.3%.

The decision was largely in line with MSCI’s previously outlined detailed plan, but came in slightly ahead of market expectations, notes Michelle Qi, chief investment officer for China at Eastspring Investments.

Shares listed on the tech-heavy large-cap ChiNext exchange will join the index for the first time in May, while mid-cap stocks will be included in November instead of May 2020 as previously proposed.

Investment bank UBS estimates the domestic Chinese stock market will see inflows of $67 billion in 2019 alone. Even larger inflows should follow next year.

MSCI indicated the weight of A-shares may increase in future if China continues to promote the further opening and development of the market through permitting the listing of index futures and other derivatives on onshore and offshore exchanges.

A further boost to the A-shares market will come when FTSE Russell, another index provider, begins to include them in its indices from June 2019.

Data from the People’s Bank of China show foreign investors held 1.15 trillion Chinese yuan (£129 billion) in A-shares as at the end of 2018. That’s the equivalent of 6.7% of A-share free-float market capitalisation, up from 2.3% in November 2015.

Further, in the year-to-date there has already been 121 billion yuan of inflows through the Shanghai-Hong Kong Stock Connect. UBS analysts note that foreign investors as a group have now surpassed insurers as the largest A-share holder. This MSCI weight increase means they’ll soon be challenging domestic mutual funds, which are currently the largest player in the market.

“Although full inclusion may take years based on Korea and Taiwan’s experiences, we expect the largely retail-driven A-shares market to become more institutionalised over time,” add UBS’s analysts.

Boost to Corporate Governance?

For the market in general and companies more specifically, the news seems to be positive. As Eric Moffett, manager of the T. Rowe Price Asian Opportunities Equity fund, foreign institutional investors tend to take a longer-term, more fundamentals-based approach to investing than some sentiment-driven domestic retail investors.

This should, in turn, help to bolster corporate governance, adds Moffett, as local companies begin to increase the transparency of reporting practises and adopt strategies that more firmly consider shareholders’ interests.

In terms of the average quality of companies, the A-Shares market is “probably the worst-quality market in the Asian region”, claims Robert Horrocks, chief investment officer at Matthews Asia.

However, due to the sheer volume of companies listed, it’s also “the place where you have the chance to find the largest number of decent quality businesses”.

Even stripping out the worst third of the market, there are at least a thousand other companies that warrant a closer examination, he explains. Of them, there are probably 200-300 that warrant regular analysis and research.

“Certainly, can you put together a quality portfolio of 50-60 companies out of the A-Shares market that can grow sustainable over time? Yes, you can.”

There are some clear attractions for A-shares and it’s an area fund managers who invest in China already are positioning themselves.

For starters, says Qi, they provide exposure to a more diverse range of sectors and companies than H-Shares. Two themes in particular stand out: consumer and healthcare. These areas can benefit from China’s long-term demographic and structural trends.

Further, she adds: “A-shares also have had a lower-correlation with offshore markets than other emerging markets, thus providing a better risk diversification profile.”

While short-term pressure, which include uncertain monetary policy and potential trade wars, may supress returns from Chinese equities through this year, “China’s A-shares look like a good place to be looking for long-term returns”, says Horrocks.

UBS expects consumer-related sectors to disproportionately benefit from an influx of foreign investors into the market. That’s because they seem to value the steadier growth in China’s consumption more than investments and exports.

Its dozen-strong list of high-conviction ‘buy’-rated stocks include six consumer and healthcare names. High-end liquor distiller Luzhou Laojiao, home appliances seller Qingdao Haier and innovative drug maker Hengrui Medicine feature.

Financials like China Construction Bank and Ping An Insurance are high up on the list, too.

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

David Brenchley

David Brenchley  is a Reporter for Morningstar.co.uk

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