Financial industry body presses China to further reform capital markets

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - China needs to further open its capital markets and create a level playing field for foreign investors while allowing more risk-hedging tools in the country’s markets, the head of an Asian securities industry body said on Tuesday.

Investors look at an electronic board showing stock information at a brokerage house in Shanghai, China February 9, 2018. REUTERS/Aly Song

Mark Austen, CEO of Asia Securities Industry & Financial Markets Association (ASIFMA), said China’s imminent MSCI inclusion added urgency to further reforms, but added Beijing’s recent government restructuring could help reduce “turf battles” between regulators.

He brushed aside fears that a looming Sino-U.S. trade war would derail China’s financial deregulation.

“What we’re seeing in China is that reforms in the capital markets have a life of their own, because they’re really there to essentially fuel economic growth in China, and help deal with issues around deleveraging,” Austen told Reuters in an interview.

A White Paper published on Tuesday by ASIFMA, which represents over 100 global financial institutions, suggested a range of policy changes, including loosening investment quotas and repatriation limits for overseas investors, breaking up Beijing’s monopoly on forex trading platforms and introducing more shorting activities.

Austen said global index publisher MSCI's MSCI.N planned inclusion of China's "A-shares" into its emerging market index this year would provide a catalyst for further reforms.

The MSCI inclusion “brings a lot of additional money and foreign appetite for China,” he said.

In June and September, MSCI will add around 230 large-cap Chinese stocks into its EM index. The index weighting will be small but some expect money flows from Hong Kong into China via the stock connect scheme on those days may breach the daily quota.

“We anticipate there to be a relaxation of the quota around those inclusion days to allow for greater trading on the northbound side,” Austen said.

ASIFMA also requested that China lift the 20 percent cap on repatriation by foreign investors under the Qualified Foreign Institutional Investor (QFII) scheme.

With such restrictions, early-bird QFII investors are treated unfairly, he said, as latecomers enjoy more freedom investing in China through newer and less restrictive channels like the stock and bond connect schemes.

The association called on China to increase transparency and end “window guidance”, whereby authorities regulate through less formal verbal instructions to market institutions, and publish more transparent rules on delistings, share trading suspensions, and tax treatment for foreign investors.

Reporting by Samuel Shen and John Ruwitch; Editing by Sam Holmes