Mainland China-Hong Kong Bond Market Connect: Q&A with Teresa Kong, Portfolio Manager
Can you outline the composition of China’s bond
The Chinese onshore market is the third largest in the world, after the
United States and Japan. The total size of the market as of the third quarter
of 2016 was over US$7 trillion (RMB 48 trillion). While most corporate bonds
trade on the stock exchange, Chinese government bonds and policy bank bonds
trade on the larger and more liquid China interbank bond market (CIBM). The
largest issuers in the CIBM are the Chinese government and the Chinese policy
banks: Agricultural Development Bank of China (ADBC), China Development Bank
(CDB) and the Export- Import Bank of China (Chexim). There is also another
Chinese bond market that trades offshore, known as the “dim sum” market where
International bond investors can buy bonds that clear through international
clearing houses like Euroclear and Clearstream. The dim sum market was a
natural outgrowth of the Chinese government granting Hong Kong-based banks the
ability to take renminbi (RMB) deposits. As demand for RMBdenominated deposits
grew, banks needed to invest the RMB deposits in RMB-denominated assets. At the
same time, offshore companies, including Chinese companies that listed offshore
were given the ability to issue bonds in RMB offshore. As supply and demand for
offshore RMB-denominated bonds grew, the dim sum market also grew. Since the
first dim sum bond was issued in 2007, it has grown into a US$75 billion (RMB
578 billion) market.
How have international investors been accessing China’s bond
The dim sum market is readily accessible and
does not require local accounts or any additional local registration. Access to
China’s onshore bond market has traditionally been granted through the
country’s Qualified Foreign Institutional Investor (QFII) and Renminbi
Qualified Foreign Institutional Investor (RQFII) programs. Since 2016,
international investors have been able to access CIBM through a new scheme that
is less onerous than QFII or RQFII, but still requires registration. The newly
announced Mainland China-Hong Kong Bond Market Connect promises to further
streamline this process. Expected to launch later this year, it is likely to
give international investors access to China’s bond market.
Recently, both Citigroup
and Bloomberg announced they would be making changes to some of their bond
indices. Can you explain what those changes are?
Citigroup announced that it
was adding Chinese onshore bonds to its emerging market and regional government
bond indices, and creating a new version of its popular World Government Bond
Index (WGBI), called WGBI-Extended, that doesn’t have strict rules against
barriers to entry for investors. This follows Bloomberg’s move in January to
launch a new version of its Global Aggregate (Global Aggregate + China) Index
that includes Chinese onshore debt, and J.P. Morgan’s announcement in March
2016 that it was putting China under review for potential inclusion in its
Government Bond Index-Emerging Markets (GBI-EM Broad).
What does the index
inclusion mean for global investors?
The trend among established bond indices
is clear. As China continues to liberalize its financial markets, mainstream
benchmarks used by investors globally will move to bring onshore Chinese debt
into indices. China is home to the world’s third-largest bond market, so it
stands to become a large part of investors’ portfolios over the next few years.
This means investors will need to gain deeper knowledge and understanding of
the onshore bond market so they can effectively evaluate and invest in Chinese
What are some of the hurdles for global investors in allocating to
Two challenges that offshore investors face are access to markets
and pricing of risk. Barriers to entry are being lifted, but global investors
still need to meet regulatory requirements outlined in the various schemes, to
be able to buy and sell bonds onshore. Pricing risk in onshore bonds is another
challenge that investors need to overcome. For the large portion of the market
consisting of state-owned entities, credit analysis historically has been about
understanding the policy priorities of the government, the strategic importance
of the industry, and the strength of a company’s ties to the local, provincial,
or central government. Companies will need to have disclosures and transparency
for offshore investors to evaluate the potential risk and return of an
Can you explain why the Chinese government controls the flow of
I like to compare the flow of capital in and out of China to the human
circulatory system. We have a delicate circulatory system consisting of
arteries that carry blood from the heart and veins that carry blood to the
heart. If the pressure is too high, we can have a heart attack! Until 2015, the
pressure has come from foreign investors seeking to invest capital onshore to
take advantage of the appreciating Chinese renminbi and the high onshore
interest rates. Since 2015, the renminbi has been depreciating relative to the USD
and interest rates have been falling. As a result, the pressure is now coming
from Chinese capital wanting to invest overseas. The Chinese government
monitors these pressures very closely and most capital controls can be
understood with this framework.
When there’s greater demand for outflows as
there has been for the last couple of years, policies will tend to facilitate
inflows and discourage outflows. We see policies and regulations adapting to
market conditions and not driven by ideology or politics.
How do capital
controls impact foreign investors wanting to buy domestic Chinese debt?
we do not yet have complete details for the Bond Connect, we have some
expectations based on our experience in trading equities through QFII versus
Stock Connect. As you can see from the table, the bond connect offers the main
advantage that the bonds would be held in custody in a Hong Kong account
without any type of holding period restrictions. QFII has explicit restrictions
based on the quota granted in terms of how much you might be repatriated over a
specific period. The exchange rate used would also be slightly different as
QFII investors would get the onshore rate CNY (onshore currency) while the bond
connect investor would be getting the offshore rate CNH (offshore currency).
The difference between the onshore and offshore rate reflects the difference in
the supply and demand and is typically limited to less than 5 cents. Finally,
we expect the bond connect to have some type of daily quota system similar to
that of the Shanghai-HK and Shenzehn-HK direct connects for equities.
Does Matthews Asia currently invest in onshore China debt?
While we don’t currently invest in onshore China debt, we expect to in the future. Accessing the market has been operationally difficult and credit risk onshore hasn’t been priced properly. This is changing as China starts to allow more companies to default onshore, leading to the market-driven pricing of credit risk. We have invested in the offshore dim sum market when certain bonds have offered adequate spread premium for credit risk.